Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

John Smyth, L.L.D., Poet Laureat & Engineer, continued

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Continued from John Smyth, L.L.D., Poet Laureat & Engineer

The following is John Smyth’s preface to his poems, dated February 1, 1841. There is something wonderfully Toronto about Smyth.

The following Poems are presented to the intelligent public for their wise and careful consideration, as a specimen, and as a forerunner of the Upper Canada Genius, which is to be the title of my volume of Poems & other miscellaneous writings that I intend shortly to publish. The following Poems will comprise part of the said volume. This volume will contain five or six hundred octavo pages. My poems and writings are all pure original, and I do not plagiarise and borrow from other authors, as I am often and most falsely accused; I cannot plagiarise and borrow from any other authors, if I was so inclined, for I never read any other volume of poems or other books except the Bible and New Testament in my life; I am often told that I ought to read poetical works; my answer always is that I have no time to read no books but the Bible, that my time is entirely occupied in writing poems and other miscellaneous writings. My answer is let them read that cannot write, I do not see the use of spending my time in reading when I can write without this waste of my valuable time. I could not repeat one verse of any poem written by any person but myself – I was brought up upon a farm, and my education is very limited, only sufficient to answer me as a farmer. I never attempted to write one word of a poem until three years next March, and the first poem that I ever attempted to write, I wrote sixteen verses in answer to a satrical poem of eleven verses from some person that was ashamed to sign the said poem that I received through the Post Office, and I was astonished and surprised with myself, as much so, as though I had seen a person fly to the moon.

I have followed the plough many a long and a hot day. The way and the manner that I come to find out that I could write a word or verse was entirely accidental, as I always entertained the belief that I could not write one verse of a poem, before I received his satrical poem of eleven verses without the author’s name as I mentioned before. I then thought I was called upon to write an answer to this satirical poem in the same way it was written, and if I could succeed in doing so, and as soon as I could ascertain the writer of the poem, I would send it to the writer of it, but I could not ascertain the writer of this satirical poem accurately, and therefore I could not send my answer.

The poem that I dedicated to the Ladies of the City of Toronto, and that the celebrated Capt. Marryatt was pleased to copy into his late work, intitled his Diary in America, and that he complimented me so very highly upon, was the fourth or fifth poem that I ever wrote. I have written one hundred and fifty poems since and a great number of prose productions since, and I have received a great number and very high encomiums for my writings. I have the honour to remain,

Your humble servant and wisher,

John Smyth, L.L.D.
Poet Laureat & Engineer.


By John Smyth

Son of the muse, begotten by
In most harmonious embrace,
       while music
Rung in their bed-chamber
       making the offspring

In every attribute of mind
       a Poet
O thou thrice happy blest with
       Prophetic sight
Hear thou the humble praise
       of one
Never till now who tried a
       single line.

Sincere my lay, short tho’ it be;
My fancy flatters as it tried to
Yon clouds among in which thou
       sit’st enthroned –
The adored of all who know true
Hail “Sir John Smyth!”
Long mayest thou live to shed
       on Canada
Lustre till now she ne’er thought
       o enjoy!

Debtors to thee her sons confess

& offer thee their poor reward
       in praise –

Praise which to unsainted would
       be sinful!
Let us have something more in
       thy own style.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Barry Callaghan

Barry Callaghan is an award-winning author, poet, editor and publisher. He is one of Canada’s most preeminent men of letters. His most recent collection of short stories, Between Trains, was published by McArthur & Company in 2007.

Go to Barry Callaghan’s Author Page