Al Purdy 1918 - 2000


Plaque located at: 435 Sackville Street, Toronto, ON, Canada

Al Purdy has been called “the most Canadian poet”, as well as the best English-language Canadian poet of the century. He wrote 33 books of verse, and twice won Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award, once in 1966 for his collection, The Cariboo Horses, and again in 1986 for his Collected Poems, 1956 – 1996. He also received the Order of Canada. These awards are among the highest honours an artist can receive in Canada.

As a young man living on Sackville Street, he loved observing the residents of Cabbagetown, and spending time at the Riverdale Zoo. His voice was that of the common man and woman; he gave ordinary events an extraordinary view.

He was not a poet-academic like so many of his peers. His first book was self-published. A high school dropout, he served an “undistinguished” term in the air force. His final work is a 652 page collection of poems entitled Beyond Remembering.

Al Purdy died at his home in Victoria, B.C. from lung cancer at the age of 81.

From Al Purdy’s book, Naked with Summer in Your Mouth:

I am four years old
The most important person
Ever born on earth
– life bursts into flame
for me the night stars shine
for me it’s always June
days are bright discoveries
in my infinite bedroom world
the moon’s a silver spoon

I am very young
only 16
I will never die
the years are made
of edible gold braid
the weeks are sun sun
and endless endless
the days stand still
I am 25 now
and feel the same
only more so
the world’s a lovely place
full of birds’ cries
and all my own
the birds like little jewels
belong to me

I am 32
and know a lady here
on this lovely earth
each day she steps out of
the sunrise glow
emerging like a star
I walk my life with her
I am 40 now
and knowing less and less
each day I live
bewildered by the loss
of gifts existence gives
still foolish but finally
I’ve learned how
to curse what I can’t bless

Now I grumble aloud
and scream my discontent
for all the friends I had
for the look in a woman’s eyes
for the death I refuse to die
and scream my lust and rage
to the God I don’t believe in
to god and all the gods
plural and singular
but god does not reply

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