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Week 4 Readings

October 1st, 2012 by Colin Martin

So, a reminder that we continue this week with the poems by Pratt and F.R. Scott and move on from there to Clarke’s Whylah Falls. Add your comments on any of these works for the week to this post.

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  • In honor of E.J. Pratt’s “Toward the last spike” I have prepared this short poem, emphasis on short.

    The Slog To End All Slogs.
    By: Andy Rafael

    Oh slog, through the mighty Canadian shield
    Long they fought, yet they would never yield.
    They worked and toiled to lay the rails
    By following the lines of ancient trails.
    Across the prairie they covered next
    Whilst all the while the politicians were vexed
    For time unknown the feats of the politician progress slowed
    Progress and time seems unknown to their code.
    The fussy mistress who to this day still causes trouble,
    British Columbia, who thinks their share we should double.
    This line, once completed, will serve to make rich men richer.
    The status of their wealth they seek to make a permanent fixture.
    Nary a mention is made of the lives lost to this venture,
    For in the eyes of history, this was seen only as a business venture.
    To finish this poem with a final rhyme,
    I will only state this final line:
    All is truth in the words of F.R. Scott’s blast,
    It seems everyone was rewarded, All Spikes but the Last.

    Thanks.

    To add to this blog (oops, I posted it on the “Getting things started” link) I must comment that Pratt has such an eloquent way of making the already quite dry history of canada even more dry (cough-cough). Sorry my throat is sore from how dry this poem is. All joking aside, I feel that Scott’s retort to this body of work is apt; Pratt’s poem is very one-sided and does not accurately depict the “immigrant” nature of canada at the time. This poem seemed to fall under the “First world problems” category that is so popular in the world of “memes”. You know, “my fridge is full, but there is nothing to eat”.

    -Later

  • Oct. 5, 2012

    It looks like our once exiled poet in George Elliot Clarkes “Whylah Falls” has quite a task set before him. It’s one thing to convince a woman that her beauty captures you and your love is true. Convincing her that love and beauty are something to be desired and trusted is completely different.
    Shelley is haunted by the pain and betrayal she has suffered in her life. Her father was abusive, her uncle murdered his family, her previous lover (Rafael) died in an accident and because of all this she is extremely hesitant to trust anything, especially feelings and words. “You bust in the door…with poems- / as if we could trust them!…Roses / got thorns. / And words / do lie. / I’ve seen love / die.” shows us her mistrust, so “She vows she’ll not be tricked. She be wisdom.”
    It’s strange how love and beauty seem to shine brightest when illuminated by contrasts. Even though “lovely Shelley” is covered in bruises and overwhelmed with the brokenness of her past, our poet is raptured by her beauty writing “one hundred postcards proclaiming her beautiful, although she’s been schooled that her hotcombs and banged-up teapot…are backwards, backwoods, and unbecoming…I love her…”. Xavier, hopelessly “In his indefatigable delirium of love,” is unwilling or unable to realize her struggles. He desperately showers her with poetry and roses in hopes of winning her over, but may never get any closer until she desires what he’s trying to sell. Poor guy…

    Justin Neufeld

  • E. J. Pratt’s “Towards the last spike” is, to me, a poem about man and Nature, struggles and achievements, with a futuristic glance. The poem talks about the construction of the CPR, a railroad which seemed to be impossible to create because of the financial difficulties and the inhospitable terrain. But now human being has the power to go beyond his limits, to overcome the “Monsters” (as Pratt depicts the mountains the workers have to fight against to build the railroad) and “build” a nation. I found that Pratt appears to become more fascinated with this metaphor than he is with the actual building of the railroad. As a result the reader is shown very little of this part of the railroad’s construction.

    In “Towards the Last Spike” the power of the right words is real. Words can make mountains into seas and they can threaten to decide the question of railway subsidies by transporting the Commons to a dangerous mountain ledge and leaving them shivering below an avalanche.

    But what really affected me while reading this poem is the futuristic ideals the author shows, with lines such as “”It was the same world then as now, except for little differences of speed and power”. It recalled to my mind the Italian Futurist movement at the beginning of the 20th lead by Marinetti, which i suggest everyone to read.

    Milo Grego

  • All the Spikes but the last
    F.R Scott was born in 1899, has a B.A in Literature, Dean of the law in human right, was a special renounce modernist to poet, received General’s Award, Union worker and Mayor. Why did I mention all these attributes of Scott? F.R. Scott is a classic Canadian who shows what humanity is all about. Furthermore, I must be sincere that it takes humility and courage for someone who is well known in the society to take a stand against injustice. F.R. Scott, criticize Pratt for overlooking the thousands of hardworking Chinese labourers who build the railway in his poem. This is a railway that connects all trade from States to Canada and built this land prosperity. Scott was absolutely angry by saying “ where are the thousands from china who swung their picks with bare hands at forty below?” Can you imagine paying for your child tuition without saying thank-you? Scott views Pratt as ungrateful citizen. Also, Scott also critize our government for injustice against Chinese immigration act by by saying “Is all Canada has to say to them written in the Chinese Immigration Act?”. Scott is a compassionate poet’s who care deeply about humanity.

    Josiah Ajibike

  • This week’s reading have been a great contrast to my understanding of poetry. Each time I go read through another one of the poems in Whylah Falls, I am reminded little of the artistic writing style and rhyme scenes and more of an intimate diary entry. The lover’s argument with Shelley was a refreshing portrait of a man who was captivated by this woman Shelley. But he knew she will reel from the fate of her previous lover. X reminds Shelley to tell her that X is genuinely concerned for Shelley. He has compassion for her. X wants her to know that she can be honest and open with him. He is there for her.

    Raymond Luong

  • October 8, 2012

    For this week’s entry, I will be discussing “All the Spikes but the Last” by F.R. Scott. This poem was written in response to “Towards the Last Spike” by E.J. Pratt, which was written fifteen years prior.

    In the first line it says, “Where are the coolies in your poem, Ned?” The word coolie is a derogatory term for Chinese labourers who worked under stressful and difficult conditions. Scott is referring to Pratt when he is asking the question to Ned. The poem is showing frustration towards Pratt for not giving the Chinese credit for working so hard under freezing temperatures.

    In Pratt’s poem, he gives a lot of credit to Donald Smith who basically had taken credit for the CPR. The Chinese had worked in strenuous and almost inhumane conditions to build the CPR. Smith had received credit and he is the one that looked good while the Chinese did not receive recognition. Pratt gives a lot of credit to those who helped financially but did not give credit to those who did the hard work and the labour. In the last line of “All the Spikes but the Last”, Scott says, “Is all Canada has to say to them written in the Chinese Immigration Act?” In other words, the poem is saying that the Chinese CPR workers did not receive proper compensation for the work they did but they also were slapped with the Chinese Immigration Act, which was created to deter the Chinese from immigrating to Canada by imposing a tax.

    I think it is very interesting how Scott is standing up for the Chinese immigrants who helped build the CPR. This poem helped to raise awareness and remind Canada of what these people have done for our country.

    Alyssa Mitha

  • This week I will be discussing only a portion of E.J. Pratt’s long poem, Towards the Last Spike.

    As a big fan of epic stories and visuals of mighty, barbarous beasts, I was pleasantly surprised when reading Pratt’s poem. Never did I think that construction of the CPR, which I’ve learned so much about during middle school and high school, could sound so epic at parts. Pratt’s use of imagery when he describes the railway workers as ticks and the land itself as some kind of mythical beast really grasps my attention and makes this historical event sound so epic. Giving the land characteristics of a living beast make it seem all the more threatening; Pratt says words like vertebrae and ribs, which we all know are parts of mammals. The metaphor “the mountains — seas indeed! With crests whiter than foam.” reminds me of other epics with unbelievable journeys like J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

    I’m hoping that our future readings in this course will include epic poems, as I may be able to really enjoy them more.

    Graeme Howard

  • Having read and understood the extensive details of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in E.J Pratt’s poem “Towards the Last Spike”, I found that F.R Scott’s response had more of an impact to me.

    Being an immigrant, I was familiar with Canada’s history but I did not really have much more exposure (than elementary and high school introduction to Canada’s history) to much information let alone details of what went about in Canada at the time Pratt wrote his poem. When I initially read “Towards the Last Spike,” I was totally lost. I was familiar with the places and some of the names mentioned from what I had studied earlier but I was oblivious to the events that were happening. I had understood the opening metaphor, “It was the same world then as now” (1), meaning that this ‘world’ is not very different from what it was then. But as I read the second and third lines, “Except for little differences of speed / And power, and means to treat myopia”, I thought to myself what an eye condition would have to do with this poem. The first time through the poem was like this. I constantly questioned Pratt’s choice of words and incorporation of metaphors and I had to read over and over to find a more in depth meaning to his words. I realized how significant this poem was when it was further discussed in class. It was essentially about Canadian unification. There were a lot of characters involved and it was great to understand and gain more knowledge about Canadian history but F.R Scott’s response in “All the Spikes but the Last” surprised me.

    Scott’s short response to an extensive poem about the establishment of the CPR was full of anger. He criticizes Pratt for not including the Chinese workers who were also major contributors to the construction of the CPR. In the line “Between the first and the million other spikes they drove, and the dressed-up act of Donald Smith, who has sung their story?” (3) Scott was most likely talking about how the driving of the last spike was credited to all these people except the Chinese who probably gave so much, including lives, to help complete the CPR, which kind of explains the title “All Spikes but the Last.”

    Due to my curiosity, I did a little searching up about the contributions Chinese workers had and I came across this video on the Historica Dominion site: https://www.historica-dominion.ca/content/heritage-minutes/nitro. The video on the page is just a preview of an actual movie and there is an excerpt under it which, I guess, briefly describes the sacrifices that Chinese immigrants did. They apparently worked for half of the wages that the whites got, which also showed a kind of racism. However, I am not sure if this can be considered factual or not because it seems to me that this video is from a Chinese worker’s point of view as was shown in the trailer, I suppose. Nonetheless, I think F.R Scott, through his poem, “All Spikes but the Last,” has a real compassion for humanity.

  • E.J. Pratt

    When I read E.J. Pratt’s work in class first thing came into my mind is, that was long! Kidding aside, I think his poem “Towards the Last Spike” is like his main career story. It is about the CPR railway, which we all know that is the main route that connects provinces and transport goods and services. I find that this poem does not only highlight his career and main contribution to Canada for leading in building this seemed to be impossible railroad, but also his struggles within himself and to Canada as well. This impossible looking project came to life with the help of the Chinese immigrants. I like the poem because it gave me a little background history of the CPR railroad. I am not much aware of the Canadian History and who contributed to what, so reading this poem is a good thing. Added to my little history knowledge of Canada.

    Reading this poem I observed a lot of metaphors used in his works. He compares lands and struggles to monsters that serve as the hindrances in building the railroad. I also observed Pratt’s stand to the contribution of the Chinese immigrants who contributed the most in building that railroad. In his work “All the Spikes but the last” he questioned the government’s Chinese Immigrant Act. Pratt wants to remind the government what the contribution of these Chinese Immigrants to the railroad and they should get the share of success and should never be forgotten.

    — Joyce Tria —

  • I will be commenting on F.R.Scott’s poem “All the Spikes but the Last” .
    The poem starts with a title that leads us to think that something is missing. It paints a picture of all these spikes that have been laid down but there is one final one that is missing. When reading the poem we see that F.R.Scott is talking about how this magnificent railroad was built to connect all the divisions of Canada yet the people who worked so hard and were brought into the country for this soul purpose were not given any credit. I believe that the credit towards the Chinese immigrants who worked in unimaginable conditions is the last spike, that one spike that was not laid down, that one spike that was left out.

    This poem is the one from week 4’s readings that caught my attention because i feel that we have a preconceived idea of what racism and exclusion is and this poem, at least for me, brought a new point of view to that. The poem talks of how the Chinese were used to build one of Canada’s most magnificent features and all they got in return was a harsh boot out of the country accompanied with laws that made it near to impossible for them to get back into the land that they worked so hard for. They were no longer wanted after they had completed what they were needed for. When we think of things from F.R.Scott’s perspective, this railroad that is so amazing looses just a bit of it’s greatness due to the morals that were not upheld after the building of it. I believe that humans are the one’s who build these amazing things, therefor we should not marvel at the objects themselves but rather the people who created them. I guess what I am trying to say is that the poetry of E.J.Pratt is beautiful and tells a great story, but when a story is told even if it is not a history book, it should give credit to all of those who worked behind it in order for this great poetry to be inspired.

  • George Elliott Clarke’s The Wisdom of Shelley from Whylah Falls suggests a brooding, bitter perspective on the notion of love. For Shelley, love has it’s superficial meaning; the poems, the words, the songs – all the endearing messages. These characteristics mask the authentic nature of love; the brutality underneath. In Shelley’s view, love has a forked-tongue, so to speak. Love comes appealing, fond, affectionate with the true embodiment being quite the contrary. This bitterness stems from her family’s displays of love (or lack thereof) and ultimately hinders her affection for X.



    Throughout the book, X constantly writes his infatuation for Shelley, hoping his poems will win her affection. However, with Shelley’s outlook on love, X does not realize his efforts resemble that of Sisyphus. With the lines, “litterin‘ the table / with poems- / as if we could trust them!”(lines 9-11), Shelley makes it clear she sees X’s poems as bothersome propaganda.

    Her distaste for X’s advances adhere to her family’s history with such matters. Her physically abusive yet vocally affectionate father embodies the forked-tongue nature of love. Shelley uses this point as a scapegoat from opening to X by saying, “I heard pa tell ma / … he / loved loved loved her / and I saw his fist / fall so gracefully / against her cheek,”(13-18). Perhaps the best summary of her view, “Roses / got thorns. / And words / do lie.”(20-23), shows the two-faced nature of love.



    These very opposing takes on love, that of Shelley and X, create a rift. A rift in which X may hopelessly strive to bridge. Which may be the strongest aspect of love – to shamelessly advocate your heart’s need for another. To renounce the external, preconceived, influenced idea of love. For Shelley, the influence of her family’s experiences of love renders her incapable of reciprocating feelings with X.


  • E.J Pratt’s “Toward The Last Spike” brings up the subject of the world evolving and constantly growing. People are creating more ways to make things happen more quickly, and yet with the modernization “It was the same world– then as now”. The poem talks about the challenge of building the CPR with all the obstacles; one being nature, getting in the way and almost making it impossible. E.J Pratt compares these obstacles to monsters.

    He explains the hardships the Chinese workers went through and didn’t get much credit for. Pratt seems to focus on nature and shaping the whole poem around that subject.

    Aingela Carlos

  • I’ll be talking about F.R. Scott’s “All the Spikes but the Last.”

    In the poem by F.R. Scott, I feel that the author uses imagery to display the hardship faced by the Chinese during this time. I perceive the Chinese workers in the poem as a young a naïve people who are in need for a job to support their families. When Scott says “the dress-up act of Donald Smith, who sung their story?” illustrates the challenges they faced, in which they endured, but in the end they do not receive any compensation. Scott follows up by saying “Did they get one of the 25,000,000 CPR acres?” references to the land workers got for contributing to the railway. In the end, I found this poem as a strong message that suggests events that happen in the past that would not be accepted in our society nowadays.

    Daniel Feng

  • In his poem All the Spikes But the Last, E.J. Pratt speaks to the injustice that he has observed during the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. He mentions the thousands of Chinese workers that built the railroads, and the harsh conditions in which they built in. He makes a statement to Canadians as a whole asking if “all Canada has to say to them written in the Chinese Immigration Act”. This act, passed in 1923 completely prohibited immigration from China. It seems that Pratt was horrified by the fact that Canada had brought in thousands of Chinese workers to work on the railroad, but once it was completed, shut the doors of the country to them. He also makes a comment about their compensation, which from reading the poem I can only assume was slim, that the workers were not granted any ownership of the railroad when it was completed.

    I found it very interesting that Pratt was willing to speak out for those that had no voice. He used his poetry to touch on a political injustice that he saw, and did not hold back how he felt about the situation.

  • “All the Spikes but the Last” by F.R. Scott I find makes quite the impression. It feels like you can sense almost anger or rage coming out of it as I read it. It struck me after reading it that we (Canada) should be mad and outraged by what he talks about in the poem. Canada used Chinese workers to build the railway and when it was done being built we totally abandoned them. Canada applied a head tax and wouldn’t allow the Chinese to own their own shops. Worse yet we forgot about them. These were things that were left quite. Pratt’s poem, although possibly unintentionally, leaves them out of the story. Essentially it helps write them out of history as if they were never there. this is very unfortunate, however it is even more unfortunate that it happened repeatedly in other places. I feel F.R. Scott’s anger is justified, and if at the end of the poem you don’t feel a little resentful for the Chinese workers you are missing the bigger picture.

  • It is very interesting to see many people talk about Scotts’ “All the Spikes but the Last” and I am going to be one of those people. This semester, I’m also taking a CNST class, and from there I learned about Canada’s immigration history, the building of CPR and etc. The poem was written in 1966, and at that time, Canada still had official, racist policies. The immigration had racial priorities and well, considering that we still have some open racism, there must be more open and vicious racial discrimination at the time. It was not just the Canadians working on the railway, like many people in Canada believed, and it was “the thousands from China who swung their picks with bare hands at forty below”. Looking at Pratt’s “Towards the Last Spike”, there does not seem to be much recognition of Chinese effort in the railway as Scott wrote “who has sung their story?” What Scott did, was showing Canadians the inconvenient truth behind the proud Canada’s railway. People may have thought the railway was complete, but until the Chinese matter was solved, not all spikes were in.

    Kihyun Rah

  • I will be reflecting on F.R. Scott’s poem “Every Spike but the Last”.

    This poem illustrates the mistreatment of the backbone behind the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who were “the thousands from China who swung”. Emigrated from China to Canada, the young workers came to make a living to support their families. They received little appraisal for the terrible work conditions they endured, along with the “25,000,000” acres they built this Canadian monument up to be. The workers received unreasonably low wages and “Did [not] get one of the 25,000,000 CPR acres”. Moreover, the poem conveys the expectation that the Chinese workers were going to finish the railway at all costs. No reward would be given other than the unacceptably low wages they received. The last line, “Is all Canada has to say to them written in the Chinese Immigration Act?”, presents the reality that Canada believed that giving the Chinese immigration rights posed as a priceless reward in itself. However, in reality the Immigration Act was more beneficial to Canada than to the Chinese as it allowed for Canada to bring in a larger quantity of workers. Overall, I felt this poem conveyed F.R. Scott’s anger and discuss with the little appraisal the Chinese railway workers received, along with the unyielding mistreatment they faced. I agree with the statements he made in the poem and I believe the workers were taking advantage of and ultimately worked to death.

    William Maunsell