23 May 2011

Verse for Victoria Day by the Master of All Poets

Queen's Park, Toronto, 1910

James Gay (1810-1891) was a gunsmith, a locksmith, a carpenter and an innkeeper; but more than all these he was, in his own words, “Poet Laureate of Canada and Master of All Poets.” The man was never properly recognized by his countrymen, or by his fellow poets; his first book, the self-published Poems by James Gay, Poet Laureate of Canada, Master of All Poets (c.1882) has vanished without a trace. What little recognition he received came from the English house of Field & Tuer, which in 1884 published Canada's Poet. Gay's second and final book, it exists as the happy result of a misunderstanding: the publisher requested Poems by James Gay..., but instead received "a batch of original manuscript for publication".

Gay dedicated Canada's Poet to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. "Dear Sir," he begins, "Now Longfellow is gone there are only two of us left." It's a sad observation, one the Master of All Poets (as merely the "Master of Poets") repeats with this undated – and, it appears, unanswered – address to his queen.

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