Archibald Lampman, (1861-1899)

The frost that stings like fire upon my cheek,
The loneliness of this forsaken ground,
The long white drift upon whose powdered peak
I sit in the great silence as one bound;
The rippled sheet of snow where the wind blew
Across the open fields for miles ahead;
The far-off city towered and roofed in blue
A tender line upon the western red;
The stars that singly, then in flocks appear,
Like jets of silver from the violet dome,
So wonderful, so many and so near,
And then the golden moon to light me home--
The crunching snowshoes and the stinging air,
And silence, frost and beauty everywhere.


by Cameron Anstee

Archibald Lampman is widely considered to be the finest of the of the Confederation group of poets whose early lives coincided with Canada’s emergence into nationhood, and who were committed to the development of a distinctly national literature for Canada. Lampman was born in Morpeth, Ontario, the son of an Anglican minister. He attended Trinity College in Toronto, and received a degree in Classics in 1882. During Lampman’s years at college, Charles G.D. Roberts published his landmark first collection, Orion and Other Poems (1880). Lampman recalled his excitement over this book in no uncertain terms: “[it is] a wonderful thing that such a work could be done by a Canadian, a young man, one of ourselves.” This assertion suggests a developing awareness of the value, and need for, Canadian literature. However, more significantly, it reminds us that the Confederation Poets were “young [men],” a fact easily forgotten given their established positions in the canon of Canadian poetry.

After an unhappy stint as a high school teacher in Orangeville, Lampman took up a position as a clerk in the Post Office Department in Ottawa, where he remained for the rest of his short life. The city of Ottawa provided a stimulating environment for Lampman’s creativity, both in the access to cultural events and intellectual companionship that it provided, as well as in its proximity to the countryside and the wilderness beyond. Fellow Confederation poet and civil servant Duncan Campbell Scott remembers Lampman composing his poems as he walked through the streets on his way to and from the office, or hiked through the countryside.

It is as a nature poet that Lampman has until recently been chiefly remembered. In poems like “The Frogs” and “Among the Timothy,” Lampman combines precise evocations of distinctly Canadian landscapes with a Romantic emphasis on the power of the natural world to influence the emotional state of the beholder. While Lampman felt a profound affinity with the transcendent visions of nature that he found in the work of English poets like Wordsworth and, especially, Keats, his poetry is not simply a belated imitation of Romantic models, but instead responds in complex ways to the social and intellectual currents of his own time and place. Lampman often celebrates the idea of a therapeutic nature that can console the ills brought on by the increasing urbanization of late nineteenth-century North American culture, only to discover that the green spaces of the countryside do not always heal in any reliable way the alienation of modern existence. No less important than his nature poetry are Lampman’s poems on contemporary politics and social issues: “To a Millionaire” and “The City of the End of Things” articulate a critique of capitalism and industrialization that anticipates some of the central concerns of twentieth-century writing. When Lampman died at 38 on the cusp of a new century, his work was poised between Romantic and Modernist ways of seeing the world. He published two collections during his lifetime (Among the Millet and Lyrics of Earth); at the time of his death he was working on a third, Alcyone, which was published posthumously.

It was a poem of Lampman’s, “Winter Uplands,” that provided the inspiration for the Poets’ Pathway. In giving citizens the opportunity to walk through the green spaces of their city and reflect on its literary heritage, the pathway carries on ideals that were central to Lampman’s work, which is at times ambivalent toward and disillusioned by the natural world, but is always respectful of nature’s complexity, and open to its potential to transform our lives

Winter Uplands is the last poem written by Archibald Lampman. He became ill when he returned from this walk, and died nine days later, at the age of 37.

The original poem is written in pencil, in one of his notebooks, at the National Archives. The photocopy of the manuscript is beside this page. There is a note at the end of the manuscript, written by Duncan Campbell Scott, his friend and fellow poet.

The poem has particular significance to the Poets’ Pathway. It is the poem that came into the mind of Bill Royds who was snowshoeing one day, and it led to his idea of a Poets’ Pathway.

Archibald Lampman in Ottawa
by Jane Moore

Lampman came to Ottawa as a young man in 1883. He worked in the Post Office from 1883 until his death in 1899.
Lampman spent time in the country whenever he could. Ottawa was not a big place then, with scarcely more than 20,000 people in the 1880s, and the country was not far away.

Lampman crossed the bridge to Hull (now Gatineau), and hiked the trails along the river and into the woods of the Gatineau Hills. After Scott introduced him to canoeing, he explored the beauty and wilderness of the Laurentian Hills, often. With Scott and others he explored the Rideau canal, the Rideau River, the Ottawa River, the upper reaches of the Gatineau and Lièvre rivers.

They also travelled by canoe and portage to Lake Timiskaming and Lake Temagami, and once to the rugged north shore of the St Lawrence River at Les Éboulements. 

  • Lampman knew the Hogs Back area well.  His parents had a cottage there, on the bank of the Rideau Canal.

  • In 1890 the Lampmans lived at 381 Stewart Street, adjacent to the home of Dr. Edward Playter, Lampman's father-in-law, who lived at 383 Stewart Street. 

  • He boarded at 67 O’Connor Street., then moved into the family home ( since demolished)  at 144 Nicholas Street.

  • He lived at three locations in Philomène Terrace on Daly Ave:
    • at No. 363 in 1886
    • at No. 369  1892-1894
    • and at No. 375 in 1894-96.

  • Lampman’s baby son died in 1894. He wrote “In Beechwood Cemetery,” in 1894. 

  •  From 1896-1899, he resided at 187 Bay St. (since demolished).

  • The Lampmans would temporarily rent out their house at 187 Bay St, and during these times Lampman would live in a cottage at Britannia

  • In 1897, after his father died of cancer, Lampman wrote his wife from Britannia, from a house on Lac des Cheines. ( Lac Deschenes.)

  • Archibald Lampman lies in Beechwood Cemetery, beside his little son, who died at the age of six months, and whose marker is behind Lampman’s tombstone.

  • Lampman’s widow, Maud Playter, was the first woman employed in the Library of Parliament. She later died at her desk in 1910.

  • There are historical plaques to Archibald Lampman on Slater St., Daly Ave., and in Saint Margaret’s  Church on
    Montreal Road in Ottawa.

  • Lampman is depicted in a stained glass window in the main branch of the Ottawa Public Library, at  Metcalfe and O’Connor streets.

  • The Lampman-Scott Award is awarded annually by Arc Magazine to the best book of poetry published in Ottawa each year.

  • Lampman’s book Among the Millet was the first book of poetry published in Ottawa.

Links: Poetry and More

Canadian Poetry Archive

UWO: Canadian Poetry

UWO: Lampman among the Timothy by Kathy Mezei These poems by Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott