Lepan, Douglas (Valentine)
LePAN, Douglas (Valentine)
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Toronto, Ontario, 25 May 1914. Education: University of Toronto schools; University College, University of Toronto, B.A.; Merton College, Oxford, M.A. Military Service: Canadian Army, 1942–45: artillery man. Family: Married Sarah Katharine Chambers in 1948 (separated 1971); two sons. Career: Lecturer, University of Toronto, 1937–38; instructor and tutor in English Literature, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1938–41. Joined Canadian Department of External Affairs, 1945: first secretary on the staff of the Canadian High Commissioner in London, 1945–48; various appointments in the Department of External Affairs, including that of special assistant to the Secretary of State, Ottawa, 1950–51; counselor and later minister counselor for External Affairs at the Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C., 1951–55; secretary and director of research, Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prospects (Gordon Commission), 1955–58; assistant under-secretary of state for economic affairs, 1958–59. Professor of English Literature, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, 1959–64; principal, University College, 1964–70; university professor, 1970–79, and since 1979 emeritus professor, University of Toronto. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1948; Governor-General's award, for poetry, 1954, for fiction, 1965; Oscar Blumenthal prize (Poetry, Chicago), 1972; Lorne Pierce Medal, 1976. D.Litt.: University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, 1964; University of Ottawa, 1972; University of Waterloo, Ontario, 1973; University of Toronto, 1990, LL.D.; Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, 1969; York University, Toronto, 1976; Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1980. Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, 1968. Member: Canada Council, 1964–70. Address: Massey College, 4 Devonshire Place, Toronto, Ontario MSS 2EI, Canada.
The Wounded Prince and Other Poems. Toronto, Clarke Irwin, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1948.
The Net and the Sword. Toronto, Clarke Irwin, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1953.
Something Still to Find: New Poems. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1982.
Weathering It: Complete Poems 1948–1987. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1987.
Far Voyages. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1990.
Macalister, or Dying in the Dark. Kingston, Canada, Quarry Press, 1995.
The Deserter. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1964.
Bright Glass of Memory: A Set of Four Memoirs. Toronto, McGraw Hill Ryerson, 1979.*
Critical Studies: "The Bird of Heavenly Airs: Thematic Strains in Douglas LePan's Poetry" by M. Davies, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver), 15, winter 1963; "Defeat of Egoism: A Critique of The Deserter" by W.C. Lougheed, in Queen's Quarterly (Kingston, Ontario), 72, autumn 1965; "European Emblem and Canadian Image: A Study of Douglas LePan's Poetry" by S.C. Hamilton, in Mosaic (Winnipeg, Manitoba), 3, winter 1970; "Man in the Maze" by D.G. Priestman, in Canadian Literature (Vancouver), 64, spring 1975; "The Wounded Eye: The Poetry of Douglas LePan" by J.M. Kertzer, in Studies in Canadian Literature (Fredericton, New Brunswick), 6(1), 1981; "Wild Hamlet with the Features of Horatio: Canadian Content in the work of Douglas LePan" by D.J.B. Smith, in
Regionalism and National Identity, edited by Berry and Acheson, Katoomba, Australia, ACSANZ, 1985; "The Moon, the Heron, and the Thrush, George Seferis, Douglas LePan, and Greek Myth" by George Thaniel, in Classical and Modern Literature (Terre Haute, Indiana), 1989.* * *
I once asked Douglas LePan about the proper spelling of his surname. "Are 'Le' and 'Pan' one word or two? Should there be a space between them or not?" The poet considered the question for some time, as if it was being asked of him for the first time, and said, "I think the proper way to spell the name is to insert a half-space between the 'Le' and the 'Pan.'"
"A half-space!" This anecdote summarizes, at least for me, a number of LePan's essential characteristics. When faced with a new or even an old situation, he considers it on its own terms. He ponders it carefully, and then he responds in a measured, meaningful, somewhat surprising, yet authoritative way. These are some of the characteristics of the man, and they are certainly characteristics of his writing.
LePan is a very accomplished person. In addition to writing poems of merit, he has served as a distinguished diplomat and influential academic. His carefully written memoirs touch on experiences in the diplomatic corps and in academic life and on friendships with the painter Wyndham Lewis and the economist John Maynard Keynes. Reading his poems, one has the feeling that his words and themes have been chosen with one eye fixed on their fitness as responsible utterances and with the other open to their literary associations.
LePan's first two books of poems were largely concerned with the experience of war. In their sleek lines he expressed an open-mouthed admiration for the muscular man of action. He composed notable poems about dying soldiers and the coureur s de bois who roamed the woods of New France. As he wrote in The Net and the Sword,
Thinking of you, I think of the coureur de bois.
Swarthy men grown almost to savage size
Who put their brown wrists through the arras of the woods.
And were lost—sometimes for months.
But LePan was also concerned with the repercussions of actions, not with those whose "care is how they fall, not why." This consideration has led him to theorize about Canadian experience over the centuries. "A Country without a Mythology" is the title of a major poem in the collection The Wounded Prince and a catchphrase close to the hearts of those Canadian artists who in the 1960s and 1970s were engaged in the mythologizing, and in some cases the remythologizing, of the landscape of the country. As LePan saw him, the quintessential Canadian was "Wild Hamlet with the features of Horatio," an insight and image worthy of the pen of a political poet like Zbigniew Herbert.
With the years LePan has acquired an uncharacteristic forthrightness and an unabashed vigor of expression. As the critic Malcolm Ross once noted, the strong poems in Something Still to Find depict a world "at peace" that seems more terrifying than the world at war as described in The Net and the Sword. The poems that make up Far Voyages go much further and express a gentle love, addressed to a young man, that has come late to a lonely life. The language of the late poems, for all their passion, remains as graceful and dignified as ever. Here is the opening of "Greetings":
If I were coming to greet you out of antiquity
I would have in my hand a pomegranate for you, or a cockerell,
or a red-figured wine-cup with your name on it.
Every so often the poet offers the reader a colorful surprise, as in
"Flames, at the Beginning":
I am burning your letter, as you asked me to.
In the light through the window it flames up like a great gold chrysanthemum.
Our love will flourish like that, extravagant and secret.
The final two words convey the essence of LePan.
These are certainly characteristics of LePan's book Macalister, or Dying in the Dark, described as a verse drama and published to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the World War II. The columnist John Fraser called the work "a conspicuous act of remembrance," for it recalls the life and death of a college friend, John Kenneth Macalister, who served as a member of the Allied wartime intelligence service until his death at Buchenwald. LePan asks such questions as "without a core of courage /how can anything be achieved, can anything be built?"
The poet Tom Marshall has effectively summarized LePan's achievement: "Throughout his work the poet is haunted by moments of beauty or violence, sometimes by the two together. Lost innocence and paradise is a recurrent theme but so, more happily, is paradise occasionally regained."
—John Robert Colombo