Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The Tree of Meaning:

Thirteen Talks

By Robert Bringhurst

Story continues below advertisement

Gaspereau, 329 pages, $31.95

The Filled Pen:

Selected Non-fiction

By P. K. Page

Edited by Zailig Pollock

University of Toronto Press,

144 pages, $21.95

Story continues below advertisement

As Penelope Fitzgerald observed, "No two people see the external world in exactly the same way. To every separate person a thing is what he [or she]thinks it is -- in other words, not a thing, but a think."

Think, if you will, of the Japanese word sesshin, which, loosely translated, speaks to the art of touching the mind, spirit, heart and, with a little luck and a lot of skill, the nether reaches of a given reader's soul. Then, think The Tree of Meaning, poet, linguist and typographer Robert Bringhurst's thought-provoking collection of 13 lectures written over the past decade.

In his gentle and unassuming foreword to The Tree of Meaning, the neo-renaissance man now residing on the B.C. Gulf Island of Quadra, contextualizes both the scope and frames of reference for these talks: "For better or worse, this book was written to be spoken, largely in homage to poets and thinkers in cultures where writing didn't or doesn't exist."

Earlier in the same piece, Bringhurst confesses he possesses "no special aptitude for language, only a nagging suspicion there might be something it's trying to say," an astonishing revelation to be sure, given the polymath's body of work (including a dozen-plus volumes of poetry, a trio of respected translations from Haida and Greek to English, as well as several collections of prose exploring subjects as diverse as the elements of typographic prose, prosodies of meaning, literary forms and languages both wild and tamed).

Firmly rooted in the humanist tradition, with branches diverging among theories of art, eco-politics, philosophy, literature, astrophysics and the secularized divine alongside the quotidian sacred, The Tree of Meaning comprises an all-encompassing worldview where form, content, substance and style converge.

Entries such as The Polyhistorical Mind, The Audible Light in the Eyes, The Humanity of Speaking and Finding Home serve to articulate a synthetic approach to both intrinsic and extrinsic being in (and of) this world, a fact that may explain Bringhurst's abiding respect for the extant fragments of fifth-century BC poet-philosopher Parmenides of Elea. Thus, in one of the most durably luminous lectures included here, Poetry and Thinking, the California-born Canadian lays his love of language on the line:

Story continues below advertisement

"When you think intensely and beautifully, something happens. That something is called poetry. If you think that way and speak at the same time, poetry gets in your mouth. If people hear you, it gets in their ears. If you think that way and write at the same time, then poetry gets written. But poetry exists in any case. The question is only: are you going to take part, and if so, how?"

Considering the compressed beauty of the rhetorical weapons in Bringhurst's extensive arsenal, a fine place to begin might well be The Tree of Meaning, an exquisitely inclusive work worth its weight in the paper upon which it is inked.

The Filled Pen, poet-painter P. K. Page's current foray into non-fiction, contains a dozen-and-a-half reviews, ruminations, tributes and flights of fancy spanning 40 years of concentrated thinking about place, personality, painting and poetry. As respected critic and Simon Fraser professor emeritus of English Sandra Djwa astutely says, "When confronted with a book of essays, the usual question is: Why read this?" To her credit, she generously supplies readers with various reasons for so doing:

"For the sheer pleasure of it. The Filled Pen offers thoughtful reflections on the creative process and provides witty and sustaining reading about writing -- a distillation of a long, highly creative lifetime. P. K. Page's essays are intelligent, perceptive and engaged." Indeed. From A Sense of Angels, a lyrically poignant salute to the late A. M. Klein (wherein she elaborates upon the Montreal poet's "special meaning" for her), to The World of Maxwell Bates to Questions and Images, Page writes with precision and perfect timing.

Of the offerings collected in The Filled Pen, Falling in Love with Poetry (2005), destined to become a classic, will bring readers to their senses concerning the much-maligned genre's enduring value: "It was language I loved, not meaning. I liked poetry better when I wasn't sure what it meant. Eliot has said that the meaning of the poem is provided to keep the mind busy while the poem gets on with its work -- like the bone thrown to the dog by the robber so he can get on with his work. . . . Is beauty a reminder of something we once knew, with poetry one of its vehicles? Does it give us a brief vision of that 'rarely glimpsed bright face behind/ the apparency of things'? Here, I suppose, we ought to try the impossible task of defining poetry. No one definition will do. But I must admit to a liking for the words of Thomas Fuller, who said: 'Poetry is a dangerous honey. I advise thee only to taste it with the Tip of thy finger and not to live upon it. If thou do'st, it will disorder thy Head and give thee dangerous Vertigos.' "

Food for thought? Exactly. The brilliant, late-blooming novelist Penelope Fitzgerald ( The Golden Child, The Bookshop) might well agree; after all, she spent 50-odd hardscrabble years learning just how difficult it would be to come by luxuries such as honey, both literally and figuratively speaking, until poetic justice was served and she scooped up the Booker Prize for Offshore a mere two decades before her death at the turn of the last century.

Story continues below advertisement

Book III of Judith Fitzgerald's epic poem, the Adagios Quartet: Electra's Benison, has just been published. She is completing Leonard Cohen: Master of Song, slated to appear late this year.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies