E. J. Pratt

Pratt in robes, 1944

Pratt in 1944

On this date E. J. Pratt died (1882 – 1964).

Frye in “Ned Pratt: The Personal Legend,” published in the summer 1964 issue of Canadian Literature to commemorate Pratt’s death:

In my fourth year as an undergraduate I was editor of the college magazine, and had to administer a prize of ten dollars for the best poem contributed.  The poems came in, and I took them to Ned.  Ned didn’t recommend an award.  What he did was put his finger on one poem and say, “Now this one — it has some feeling, some sensitivity, some sense of structure.  But — well, damn it, it isn’t worth money.”  I have never found a profounder insight into literary values, and I was lucky to have it so early.  As a graduate student I was his assistant when he became the first editor of Canadian Poetry Magazine.  I am not saying that what was printed in those opening issues was imperishable, but it was certainly the best of what we got.  What impressed me was the number of people (it was the Depression, and the magazine paid a dollar or two) who tried to get themselves or their friends in by assuming Ned was a soft touch.  In some ways he was, but he was not compromising the standards of poetry to be so: poetry was something he took too seriously.  And, as I realized more clearly later, friendship was also something he took too seriously to compromise.  People who thought him a soft touch were never his friends.  He could be impulsively, even quixotically, generous to bums and down-and-outs, and I think I understand why.  His good will was not benevolence, not a matter of being a sixty-year-old smiling public man.  It was rather an enthusiasm that one was alive, rooted in a sense of childlike wonder at human existence and the variety of personality.  This feeling was so genuine and so deep in him that I think he felt rather guilty when approached by someone towards whom he was actually indifferent.  (CW 21, 327-28)

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