Monday, April 10, 2023

F.R. Scott*

F.R. Scott (1899―1985) in some circles is best known as a constitutional lawyer and political theoretician; he served as Dean of Law at McGill University, and was a political activist for more than forty years ― helping to lay the foundations for what is now Canada’s New Democratic Party. He considered, however, his poetry to be his most important contribution.

His father was an Anglican priest, poet, and a strong supporter of social justice issues ― who was returned to Montreal by the army in 1919 for being publicly in favour of the Winnipeg General Strike. F.R. Scott’s sense of human worth and dignity ― despite the secular forces within leftist political movements ― remained grounded in his Christian faith.

Scott was an early champion of modernist poetry in Canada, establishing little magazines in the 1920s. In 1936, he and his friend A.J.M. Smith edited New Provinces, the first anthology of modern Canadian verse.

The Winter 1967 issue of the journal Canadian Literature was subtitled “A Salute to F.R. Scott” and featured an essay by A.J.M. Smith, who said of Scott’s Selected Poems (1966, Oxford University Press) “most of his poems that start out as an image soon become images, and perceptions soon become concepts and blossom in metaphor, analogy, and conceit. Mind comes flooding in.” Smith, like many others, used the word “metaphysical” to describe Scott’s verse, and demonstrates the power of his poems by letting them speak for themselves.

The following poem is from Scott’s 1945 collection Overture (Ryerson Press).


Christ in the darkness, dead,
His own disaster hid.
His hope for man, too soon
Sealed with the outer stone.

This heaven was at hand,
Men saw the promised land,
Yet swiftly, with a nail
Made fast the earlier rule.

All saviours ever to be
Share this dark tragedy;
The vision beyond reach
Becomes the grave of each.

And that of him which rose
Is our own power to choose
Forever, from defeat,
Kingdoms more splendid yet.

Play Easter to this grave
No Christ can ever leave.
It is one man has fallen,
It is ourselves have risen.

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about F.R. Scott: first post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.