Quotation of the Day for January 13, 2010

Quotation of the Day for January 13, 2010

“But the main idea is the first one: hanging on, staying alive. Canadians are forever taking the national pulse like doctors at a sickbed: the aim is not to see whether the patient will live well but simply whether he will live at all. Our central idea is one which generates, not the excitement and sense of adventure or danger which The Frontier holds out, not the smugness and/or sense of security, of everything in its place, which The Island can offer, but an almost intolerable anxiety. Our stories are likely to be tales not of those who made it but of those who made it back, from the awful experience — the North, the snowstorm, the sinking ship — that killed everyone else. The survivor has no triumph or victory but the fact of his survival; he has little after his ordeal that he did not have before, except gratitude for having escaped with his life.”

– Margaret Atwood, writer, in her book Survival, comparing the dominant symbols of the literatures of the United States (The Frontier), England (The Island), and Canada (Survival).

Case in point, Alden Nowlan’s poem, which had a nice run in the Toronto subways a decade ago:

Canadian January Night

Ice storm: the hill
a pyramid of black crystal
down which the cars
slide like phosphorescent beetles
while I, walking backwards in obedience
to the wind, am possessed
of the fearful knowledge
my compatriots share
but almost never utter:
this is a country
where a man can die
             simply from being
caught outside

—Alden Nowlan, Selected Poems