F. R. Scott

Unison

What is it makes a church so like a poem?
The inner silence – spaces between words?

The ancient pews set out in rhyming rows
Where old men sit and lovers are so still?

Or something just beyond that can’t be seen,
Yet seems to move if we should look away?

It is not in the choir and the priest.
It is the empty church has most to say.

It cannot be the structure of the stone.
Sometimes mute buildings rise above a church.

Nor is it just the reason it was built.
Often it does not speak to us at all.

Men have done murders here as in a street,
And blinded men have smashed a holy place.

Men will walk by a church and never know
What lies within, as men will scorn a book.

Then surely it is not the church itself
That makes a church so very like a poem,

But only that unfolding of the heart
That lifts us upward in a blaze of light

And turns a nave of stone or page of words
To Holy, Holy, Holy without end.

Francis Reginald Scott, commonly known as Frank Scott or F. R. Scott (August 1, 1899 – January 30, 1985), was a Canadian poet, intellectual and constitutional expert. He helped found the first Canadian social democratic party, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, and its successor, the New Democratic Party. He won Canada’s top literary prize, the Governor General’s Award, twice, once for poetry and once for non-fiction. He was the “first mover of Canadian poetry,” according to Louis Dudek.

Scott was born in Quebec City, the sixth of seven children. His father was Frederick George Scott, “an Anglican priest, minor poet and staunch advocate of the civilizing tradition of imperial Britain, who instilled in his son a commitment to serve mankind, a love for the regenerative balance of the Laurentian landscape and a firm respect for the social order.” He witnessed the riots in the City during the Conscription Crisis of 1917.

Completing his undergraduate studies at Bishop’s University, in Lennoxville, Quebec, Scott went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and was influenced by the Christian Socialist ideas of R.H. Tawney and the Student Christian Movement. Scott returned to Canada, settled in Montreal and studied law at McGill University, eventually joining the law faculty as a professor.

While at McGill Scott became a member of the Montreal Group of modernist poets, a circle that also included Leon Edel, John Glassco, and A.J.M. Smith. Scott and Smith became lifelong friends. Scott contributed to the McGill Daily Literary Supplement, which Smith edited; when that folded in 1925, he and Smith founded and edited the McGill Fortnightly Review. After the Review folded, Scott helped found and briefly co-edited The Canadian Mercury. Scott (assisted by Smith and Leo Kennedy) also anonymously edited the modernist poetry anthology New Provinces (in which he published ten poems), which was published in 1936.

During the depression he became leftist in his political views, and became influential within the Canadian socialist movement. In 1970 he was offered a seat in the Canadian Senate, which he declined.

His credentials as a poet are impressive. He won the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1981 for his Collected Poems. (In 1977 he’d already won the GG for nonfiction for his Essays on the Constitution.) Leonard Cohen recorded Scott’s poem “A Villanelle For Our Times” for his CD Dear Heather (2004) with musical accompaniment.

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