The Swamp of Telda

The Canada Book of Prose and Verse 1

The Canada Book of Prose and Verse, Book One, 1928

The short story The Swamp of Telda was written by Lorne Pierce* for inclusion in the The Canada Book of Prose and Verse, Book II, 1928, which he edited along with Dora Whitefield. This series was co-published with The Macmillan Company of Canada as a reading series and was reprinted five times between October, 1928 and July, 1932.

Lorne Pierce was hired by The Ryerson Press in 1920 as a literary critic and literary advisor. He soon became Book Editor and spent the next 40 years shaping the publishing output of The Ryerson Press, turning it into the most prestigious publishing house in Canada.

An elementary reading series was highly regarded by Lorne Pierce, Macmillan’s Hugh Eayrs and  W.J.Gage’s John Saul as a tremendous market for educational publications. The ultimate collaboration of Pierce and Eayrs was seen as a major triumph for both The Ryerson Press and Macmillan in the 1920s and 1930s. Although fraught with contractual issues, the resulting readers were highly successful in their day.

The Swamp of Telda is included in Book II of the series. Telda is a play on words with Pierce’s birthplace of Delta, Ontario, a hamlet just north of Brockville in the county of Leeds and Grenville. Pierce was born in Delta on August 3, 1890 in the family home on Mathew Street. He enjoyed returning to the family home and vacationing in the family cottage on Whiskey Island in Lower Beverley Lake.

The reference to the swamp is possibly Pierce’s own reminiscences of his childhood adventures in and around the town of Delta.

The story opens with a description of the town of “Telda” with “its little shops and homes clustered snugly along Main Street, a most indolent and meandering thoroughfare that crept through Sleepy Hollow.”

But beyond the town there was a swamp that was “certainly haunted’’ where an “ugly-looking old hermit lived in a dilapidated hut at the edge of the swamp. He had an iron hook for a hand and children ran indoors when he came to town.”

One day, some brave boys saw a rainbow and decided to find the foot of the rainbow closest to them – the giant evergreen tree in the middle of the swamp. They claimed “there must be a pot of gold somewhere around”.

“When the boys at last arrived at the great evergreen tree, they found to their surprise, a clearing. It was full of warm sunlight, of green and yellow-fringed orchids, the plaintive note of the wood thrush, the merry call of the Canada bird, the splendid orioles and modest brown thrashers. It seemed like a bowl holding green light and the fragrance of every beautiful thing.”

The story goes on to recount the musings of the three lads as to the nature of rainbows, each boy having a turn at describing the origins of the elusive apparition. One said “the sun just drew the vapour out of the muddy, slimy waters of the swamp, and carried it to the sky. The mist always looked like coloured ribbons when the sun shone through it.”  Another claimed it was about “beautiful Iris, who once was messenger of the Queen of Heaven and also Goddess of the Rainbow. She had wings of many colours, and her robes flashed as many hues to the sun as the proud feathers of the lordly bird. Her Grandfather, Ocean, kept the clouds filled with water.” A third announced that “the rainbow took its colours from the wings of birds and from the flowers where its feet rested.”

The accompanying study notes are meant to encourage the reader to use imagination. “Scientists and poets are more nearly alike than most people suspect. Both possess that rare gift, imagination. Old Gradgrind** had none of it. The scientists saw everything through the imagination. Their explanations of nature were pure poetry, nothing but love dreams and beautiful fancies.

When the scientist exhausts all the known facts his mind takes a daring leap, that is, he makes a bold guess, imagines, if you will. So it was that men discovered America, electricity, radium, insulin.

The poet does the same. His fancy plays upon facts, like golden sunshine upon a stagnant pond, and you have rainbow thoughts, flashing figures of speech. The pond is no longer a pond, but,

                  “And every pool a sapphire is

                  Ribboned around with irises”

*The impact that Lorne Pierce had on The Ryerson Press and on Canadian publishing as a whole is immeasurable. During his 40-year career at the helm of The House, Pierce sought to bring Canadian literature, art and culture to the Canadian public. He dedicated his entire life’s work to this end and succeeded in every aspect. His “Can Lit” influence can be found in the hundreds of titles published by The Ryerson Press between 1920 and 1960 — a legacy that endures within The Ryerson Press Archives.

**Gradgrind is the Dickens character Mr. Thomas Gradgrind,the School Board Superintendent in the novel Hard Times. His name is sometimes used generically to refer to someone who is hard and only concerned with cold facts and numbers.

About The Ryerson Press Archive

My name is Clive Powell. I worked for McGraw-Hill Ryerson for 35 years. Recently I was asked to find a home for 3000 publications that represent the Ryerson Press Archive. I am happy to share my discoveries.
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