Al Purdy


'This is where I came to
when my body left its body
and my spirit stayed
in its spirit home'

Al Purdy’s ashes are buried in Ameliasburg, Ontario, Canada. (The Al Purdy memorial statue can be found in the east side of Toronto’s Queen’s Park.)

Al Purdy's grave (Photo by Howard White)

Purdy is celebrated as a working-class, deeply nationalist Canadian poet. While he had little formal education, he drew on a wealth of life experience to build a writing career that earned him a reputation as one of Canada’s greatest poets.

Born Alfred Wellington Purdy on December 30, 1918, in Wooler, ON, and raised in Trenton, Purdy attended Albert College but dropped out at age seventeen to ride the rails to Vancouver. This would begin a lifetime of travelling from coast to Canadian coast, spending most of his earlier years as an itinerant labourer. During World War II, Purdy served in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Ultimately these experiences became the foundation of Purdy’s poetry, on which he developed a voice that spoke the language of everyday Canadians. As a constant traveller with roots in a working-class culture and a deep sense of Canadian nationalism, Purdy cultivated an 'open, colloquial and contemporary style' that gave 'voice to the vernacular idiom of ordinary Canadians'.

Dedicated to becoming a poet since age thirteen, Purdy finally became able to support himself exclusively on his writing when he reached his forties. Over the span of his career he published thirty-three books of poetry, a novel, an autobiography, and nine collections of essays and correspondences. Purdy’s work has been highly recognized, most notably receiving the Governor General’s Award twice - once for The Cariboo Horses in 1965 and again for The Collected Poems of Al Purdy in 1986 - as well as being appointed the Order of Canada in 1983 and the Order of Ontario in 1987.

He died of lung cancer on April 21, 2000 in Sidney, BC.

For we have bounced no rockets off the moon,
swung west to loop the land with gold and steel,
or made a bloody pageant of our greatness,
or bought men's loyalty by giving or withholding —
we have not done any of these great things:
troubled, listening to other people's opinions,
becoming them, pinned to earth by them,
as if we were a focus and burning glass
for opinions, as if we were coming to birth somehow,
learning to love and to earn and to spend —
The worth of life being not necessarily noise
we kept unusual silence, and then cried out
one word which has never yet been said —

From 'On Canadian Identity: A Sentimental Monograph for The Daughters of the Empire'


Harbour Publishing






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