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Sir Charles G.D. Roberts (1860-1943)

Celtic knotA selection of the poet's worksCeltic knot

Photograph of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts 1860-1943) Known as the Father of Canadian Poetry, Charles G.D. Roberts was a poet and prose writer who inspired creativity in other poets of his generation, among them Bliss Carman (his cousin), Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott. Together, these four poets became known as the "Confederation" poets.

Roberts was born in Douglas, New Brunswick, in 1860 and was raised in Westcock, near the Tantramar marshes. The beautiful landscape of his childhood was to dominate and inspire his work for a lifetime. He graduated from the University of New Brunswick in 1879, and the following year, at the age of 20, he published his first book of poems, Orion, and Other Poems (1880). Roberts's example inspired Archibald Lampman to begin his writing career, and contemporary critics hailed Orion as the beginning of a new epoch in Canadian letters.

From 1879 to 1895, Roberts worked as a teacher in Chatham and Frederiction, New Brunswick, as editor of the literary magazine, the Week, and as a professor at King's College, Windsor, Nova Scotia. It was during this period that Roberts wrote his two best collections of verse, In Divers Tones (1887) and Songs of the Common Day and Ave! An Ode for the Shelley Centenary (1893). In this latter work, Roberts recreated Maritime life with vivid sensitivity.

In 1897, Roberts left his wife and family in New Brunswick and moved to New York where financial pressures forced him to turn to prose writing, which commanded a larger audience and better fees. His most successful prose genre was the animal story, in which he drew upon his early experience in the wilds of the Maritimes. Along with Ernest Thompson Seton, Roberts is credited with inventing the modern animal story. He published over a dozen such stories between Earth's Enigmas (1896) and Eyes of the Wilderness (1933). In 1907, he moved to Europe, where he continued to write, and served in the British Army as a commissioned officer during World War I, despite the fact that he was 54.

Roberts returned to Canada in 1925 and settled in Toronto where he began writing poetry again, producing The Vagrant of Time (1927) and The Iceberg and Other Poems (1934). He was a popular figure at this time, and lectured throughout Canada. An active member of the Royal Society of Canada, Roberts was awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal for distinguished service to Canadian literature in 1926, and was knighted in 1935. Roberts continued to lecture and write until 1943 when he died at the age of 83.

Roberts is remembered as a prolific and versatile writer whose early poetry inspired a generation of writers and laid the foundation for future achievements in Canadian verse.

Biography by:
Nina Milner
Canadian Literature Research Service

Selected Works by Charles G.D. Roberts

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  • Orion, and Other Poems. -- Philadelphia : Lippincott, 1880.

  • In Divers Tones. -- Montreal : Dawson ; Boston : Lothrop, 1887.

  • Songs of the Common Day and Ave! An Ode for the Shelley Centenary -- Toronto : Briggs ; London : Longmans, 1893.

  • Earth’s Enigmas. -- Boston : Lamson, Wolffe, 1896.

  • The Kindred of the Wild. -- Toronto : Copp, Clark ; Boston : Page, 1902.

  • The Vagrant of Time. -- Toronto : Ryerson, 1927.

  • Eyes of the Wilderness. -- Toronto & New York : Macmillan ; London : Dent, 1933.

  • The Iceberg and Other Poems. -- Toronto : Ryerson, 1934.

  • Selected Poetry and Critical Prose, edited by W. J. Keith. -- Toronto & Buffalo : University of Toronto Press, 1974.

  • The Collected Poems of Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, edited by Desmond Pacey and Graham Adams. -- Wolfville, N.S. : Wombat, 1985.

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