Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 11 to 14
- Grade: 6 to 9
'Johnston may well be Canada's most accomplished poet in the sense that he writes poetry as a craft, not as self-revelation, or propaganda, or "high art", or psychological therapy. He is preoccupied with rhythms, with diction, with tones and nuances, and the creative challenge of complex metres and stanza forms. ...This verse celebrates ordinary life in tones that vary between the ironic and the sombre, and the tender and the stoic, but its technique is impeccable, and its chief pleasure lies in the display of an unostentatious but formidable artistry. He is also the master of "occasional" poetry, and most of these poems have worn well, transcending their immediate occasions with shrewd insights and unpretentious wisdom. Above all, he discovers a new originality within the deeply traditional.'
About the author
George Johnston was born in Hamilton, Ontario, on October 7, 1913. Johnston knew early on that he wanted to be a writer, and published early poems (often comic-satiric), as well as newspaper columns, film reviews and plays, during his years at the University of Toronto's Victoria College, where he studied philosophy and English.
When war was declared, he joined the RCAF and served four and a half years, including thirteen months as a reconnaissance pilot in West Africa. He returned to Canada in 1944, married Jeanne McRae, and completed his MA and doctoral studies at the University of Toronto. In between, he taught two years (1947-49) at Mount Allison University, and in 1950, having found teaching to his liking, accepted a post at Ottawa's Carleton University where, for twenty-nine years, he was a charismatic and much-loved professor of Old and Middle English and Old Norse. His first book of poems, The Cruising Auk, written during the war, was not published until 1959, when he was forty-six.
Sabbatical years were decisive in Johnston's life. During his first, 1957-58 at Dorking in Surrey, he met Peter Foote of the University of London, who taught him Old Norse, and began translating The Saga of Gisli in collaboration with him. A second sabbatical, in 1967-68, was spent in Denmark and included the discovery of modern Faroese poetry and the first of four visits the Johnstons made to the Faroe Islands. A last sabbatical, 1974-75, spent mostly in Gloucester, England, included a three-week visit to Iceland.
After The Cruising Auk, Johnston published four more poetry collections before the appearance of Endeared by Dark, his Collected Poems, in 1990. A man whose diverse interests included calligraphy, bell-ringing, wine-making and beekeeping, who kept up a wide correspondence and enjoyed reading the classics aloud with his wife, Johnston retired from Carleton in 1979. He died in August of 2004.