Elegy in White


Snow slants through pines
At Tirgu Neamt
You warm
At her breast dreaming
Your long journey
Keine Lazarovitch
Sleeps at last


Snow falls like rain
On east coast
City streets
You open your
Box of brushes
Like a lover’s
Full heart


There is snow
On mountain peaks
When you spy
The island village
For two months
We drown
In your sea’s blue light


From your mouth
Smoke pours
Like clouds of snow
Across the chess board
As I move the queen
You have willed me
To move


All the Montreal
Memories of snow
Cannot eclipse
The heat we held
I dance on white
Songs you gave me


Static over the phone
On your birthday
One poet to another
I hear you cough
And say ‘Yes’
Our lives melt
Like snow

Questions and Answers

What inspired “Elegy in White”?

I was a close friend of Irving Layton for thirty-eight years, and spent a great deal of time with him in Greece (the island of Lesbos) as well as in Toronto and Montreal. When he died in January 2006 it was a great loss to me, not to mention Canadian culture. I wrote this poem several months later as a tribute to his remarkable character and ability and to our friendship.

What poetic techniques did you use in “Elegy in White”?

There are seven lines in each stanza to emphasize the constancy of the experience described in different landscapes and time periods. ‘Snow’ appears in the first line of the first three stanzas, then in lines 3 and 2 of the next two stanzas, and finally in the last line of the poem. A central metaphor in each stanza speaks to Layton’s strength and vision.

The reference to Keine Lazarovitch in the first stanza is to Layton’s mother about whom he wrote a poem at her death. Tirgu Neamt is the Romanian village where Layton was born in 1912. In stanza two there is a reference to Fuller Brushes—Layton sold them briefly in Halifax in the 1930s.

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