47 Glencairn Ave
July 21, 1957

Dear Sister Dorothy Marie:

Your letter was forwarded to me from the College by a roundabout route – hence the delay in answering.

I have no objection whatever to your task; in fact, I am honoured by your interest.

First, I may point out that Sutherland brought out many facets in my work of which I was unaware (or but dimly conscious) at the time of writing, but of which I could see the partial truths after re-reading his book. He did plough back into the past to uncover the unconscious processes, and I was amazed at the skill with which he did his microscopic analysis. It is true that the microscope was unduly active when it played upon the squid and the cachalot but it brought into brilliant focus the concluding pages of Brébeuf. Leafing through the 'Collected Poems' recently, I was astonished at the numerous references to Christ, the Cross and the symbol of grace. Personally, I derived more exaltation from the dying moments of Brébeuf than from anything I ever selected as a subject.

Before answering your question about Nature, may I mention some poems which are undercurrents of my convictions.

(1) 'Before an Altar' page 95 (Collected Poems)
(2) To an Enemy 95
(3) The Empty Room 96
(4) The Iron Door 212
(5) Old Age 226
(6) A Legacy 227 (In memory of my mother)
(7) The Highway 228
(8) The Decision 228 (To a dear student of mine)
(9) The Truant 309

'The Truant' is an elaborate symbol of human resistance to a pagan god of power divorced from all moral considerations. It was written at the height of the Nazi regime. The Panjandrum is personified Power without kindness, mercy and love. The Truant is a Christian who defies this giant of Might and is willing to prefer pain and death to submission. The poem ends on the Rood, the sublimest symbol of sacrificial love.

Nature

Perhaps the Titanic may be chosen as the most complex example. The ship itself may be taken as a protagonist of the story provided other factors are taken into account. It is an illustration of beauty, grace, magnitude and power but it also possesses a 'flaw' imposed upon it by its builders – the ambition of the White Star Line to make the 'perfect ship' and to that end she ran at top speed through the floe-ice though warned of the danger by other ships. The flaw was the belief in her invulnerability. Nature in the existence of an iceberg proved how overweening the hubris was. The Iceberg struck at the 'Achilles heel.' See page 114.

The Roosevelt and the Antinoe had to contend with nature in the form of the greatest storm on the Atlantic recorded in years. There is no apparent evidence of a flaw in the traditional sense. It is a straight contest between human courage and devotion and the terrific sea. Two lives indeed were lost but under no 'hubris.'

In the 'Great Feud' nature gives the finishing blow to the battle in the action of Jurania, the volcano, but the poem is a dream of an Armageddon. I think John Sutherland forced the religious issue in this allegory, though his treatment was superb.

The Ice-Floes is a simple struggle between sailors and the elements.

I trust this will be of some help.

Yours most cordially,
E.J. Pratt


your task
She had asked how he felt about her writing a dissertation on his poetry for the Ph.D. degree at the University of Ottawa. (See the letter to Doyle, 10 July 1956.) The dissertation was completed in 1958.

religious issue
Sutherland in his The Poetry of E.J. Pratt: A New Interpretation (1956) had seen The Great Feud as a Christian allegory in which Tyrannosaurus Rex symbolizes Christ. Pratt at the time of the book's publication had thought the interpretation 'fantastic nonsense.'