Nov. 11, 1954
Apologies for pencil writing. My fountain pen has gone dry.
First let me say that your letters are always welcome. Write for anything that will help. I regard it an honour to get your interest.
Let me also take up your points one by one.
I must confess that the only 'didacticism' I had in mind when I scribbled that fantasy was to get away from the dead seriousness of Newfoundland Verse which, apart from ten or a dozen short poems, has little merit. I wanted to strike a new vein which generally has persisted till the present with sufficient variation (I hope) to break the monotony of tone. It was a complete departure for me. I wasn't conscious of a 'rebel' position. Over-piety was present indeed here and there, but I didn't bother about it. Edgar and I (as soon as I entered Victoria) took the position that if people let us alone we would let them alone. We abhorred interference, being individualists like yourself.
It is true that the fish had no moral law. They were products of evolution the Holy Script hadn't appeared. So it was an objective position. Probably you are right that 'primitivism' underlay my ideas though I wasn't conscious of it, and you may be right that, as one critic pointed out, I was 'thumbing my nose at academic just-so-isms.' It looked crazy when it appeared, one theological professor claiming that it was the 'daftest' thing he ever read. Another seriously approached the Chancellor with the question 'What did Pratt mean by the poem?' Bowles, generous soul replied 'Mean? He meant nothing. It was just "let her go Gallagher." He had to get something out of his system.' Another, quite rightly, I think, said it was an 'anti-maple psychosis' which had taken hold of Canadian writers. The Edinburgh Scotsman reviewed it as an advertisement of the brands, another Scotch paper claiming that it was a temperance pamphlet in disguise. But some took it for what it was, a fantasy, saying that the grin never left his face from beginning to end.
I never believed that it would be placed on the U of T. curriculum as prescribed reading. Anyway it is there for better or worse. To have a lot of interpretations is better than to have none at all. At least some people became interested and controversial. It certainly wasn't written for a Sunday School paper, and I have never been a consistent Sabbatarian any more than yourself. But it was fun having people coming to me and talking about the scurrilous nature of the subject. Why the Cat? Well, to hell with the Cat. It disappeared in the Irish Sea appropriate place!
Still, I cannot dispense with the primitive streak, strive as I may. And this brings up the next point.
I was brought up with 'turning the other cheek' and 'Go with him twain.' Noble indeed but was it practicable? It was my father's creed. The Fable of the Goats is pacifistic but the argument was between two individuals and not two hosts or races although they are in the background. The problem of concession is easier to solve when one stretches out his hand and says 'let's forget.' When a nation is aroused it isn't so easy. I must say that the matter of reconciliation has always been present in my mind, and perhaps this poem is an attempt at its expression.
Then why the change? I do not profess to be able to solve it. Could a man see another maltreat a child and not interfere even by force? I had this idea in the Autopsy on a Sadist. The concentration camps, the a[..]s, the tortures, etc. etc., couldn't go without protest. And the bombs on the children in London while the bombers escaped by air unseen! Perhaps there is a solution to it all, but it is beyond my comprehension and to offer a formula was beyond my scope. Possibly Ghandi had it I don't know. But at least I honoured him.
May I say just here that it was Psychology with its emphasis on experience Wundt, James, and others and not Pure Abstract Reason that most impressed me in undergraduate days. I found more fighting in the latter than in the former.
The best to Mary.
U of T.