Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (1996), 22, (1), 189–201.

Abstract

Book Reviews Literature GRISÉ, YOLANDE et JEANNE D'ARC LORTIE, éds. Les Textes poétiques du Canada français 1606-1867. Vol. 8: 1860. Montréal: Fides, 1995. Pp. 577. Reading the 198 poems that appeared in 1860, as they are republished in the latest volume of this distinguished series, might give one the initial impression that French-Canadian poetry had become static. For, here again are the usual poetic étrennes for New Year's Day, the circumstantial poetry, the patriotic verse, the sprinkling of pro-British poetry, the fables, and the proverbs, much of it not rising above the level of metered and rhymed prose. Yet, on closer inspection, this volume reveals itself to be of considerable interest. The most prolific poet in 1860 (as in 1859) was clearly Adolphe Marsais, who wrote more than eighty poems that year (some 300 of his poems appear in the previous three volumes). He clearly dominates the scene with a steady flow of verse, including fables, but especially proverbs and paraphrases (the latter are usually glosses on well-known Latin adages such as sic transit gloria mundi). To be sure, much of the verse is conventional and pedestrian and espouses tradi­ tional, classical wisdom and Christian virtues. Nor is Marsais immune from the European imperialist mentality of his time, calling for military intervention to secure the rights of Christians in the Middle East ("Il est temps d'entreprendre une sainte croisade / Contre une nation barbare et rétrograde / Qui persécute notre foi") or in the Orient (see his "L'expédition de Chine en 1860" et "Guerre aux Chinois!"). Yet, he is a man of progress, singing the praises of steamships, the telegraph, photography, and even surgical ether. Marsais represents a famil­ iar nineteenth-century type: conservative in moral outlook, yet progressive in matters of science and technology. He is also a poet capable of surprising us, on occasion, as in his lines attacking spousal abuse, a subject normally taboo in the nineteenth century, especially in literary pieces: Pitié pour la femme soumise Par l'hymen à quelque brutal Qui joue, est grondeur ou se grise Et souille le noeud conjugal! Plaignons l'épouse, Hélas! jalouse, Non sans raison de son indigne époux, Qui l'abandonne Et ne lui donne, Pour arguments, qu'une grêle de coups. En vain, elle gémit et pleure Sur les misères de son sort; C'est que la raison du plus fort Est toujours la meilleure. The unexpected can also be found in the work of Louis-Thomas Groulx, espe­ cially in his "Épître à son altesse royale, le prince de Galles," a lengthy (949 verses!), digressive, and, on the whole, somewhat boring tribute to the Prince of Wales, one of several such poems to honor the prince on the occasion of his visit to Canada. What is particular about Groulx's poem is the asides, such as Quebec Studies 189

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Talbot, Emile