by George J. Dance

White savannahs

W.E. Collin (1893-1984), The White Savannahs, 1936. Courtesy The Book Collector's Library.

William Edwin Collin (May 9, 1893 - December 21, 1984) was a Canadian poet and literary critic.[1] He is best known for his 1936 study of Canadian poetry, The White Savannahs, which has been called "the first survey of Canadian poetry from a modern viewpoint."[2]


Collin was born in Oakenshaw, England.[1] His father was a mining official and a Methodist lay preacher.

Yhe son was educated at King James I Grammar School at Bishop Auckland. He then matriculated at the University of London, but was prevented from attending by the outbreak of World War I. He enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service, and after the war became a military clerk stationed in London. He began regularly frequenting Harold Munro's Poetry Bookshop and reading avant garde magazines like The New Age. [3]

In 1919 he went on a scholarship to France, where he studied Romance languages, and was introduced to the poetry of the troubadours, Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Charles Baudelaire.[3]

After a year teaching French in England, he emigrated in 1923 to Canada,[3] where he became a professor of French at the University of Western Ontario (UWO) in London, Ontario.[4]

He would remain at UWO the rest of his career. He married in 1928. In 1925 he wrote a master's thesis at UWO, Clockmaker of Souls,[3] a study of French poet and novelist Paul-Jean Toulet, which was published in 1933.[5]

Starting in the late 1920's, he began searching out and befriending Canadian poets In Toronto he met Dorothy Livesay, Marjorie Pickthall, and E.J. Pratt.[3] In the summer of 1931, he made a road trip with his wife and 2 sons to Montreal, where he met the poets of the Montreal Group: Leo Kennedy, A.M. Klein, F.R. Scott, and A.J.M. Smith.[6]

His efforts resulted in a series of scholarly articles, on Livesay (Canadian Forum, 1931), Pickthall (University of Toronto Quarterly, 1932), Kennedy (Canadian Forum, 1933), and Lampman (U of T Quarterly, 1934). At the same time he worked on combining these articles into a book on the new poetry, The Whie Savannahs, which was essentially completed by 1934.[3]

In The White Savannahs Collin analyzed Canadian poetry (the 7 poets mentioned, plus French-Canadian poet Marie Le Franc) from a modernist perspective, applying the ideas of T.S. Eliot, Sir James Frazer, and the Symbolists to Canadian poetry. Its 1936 publication established him as a major Canadian critic.[1]

However, sales of the book were small. Collins, discouraged, did not write another book, though he continued to read and review Canadian poetry.[3]

From 1941 to 1956 he wrote the annual review of French-Canadian literature for the University of Toronto Quarterly.[1] "For nearly two decades," says Germaine Warkenton, "he was almost the only channel through which information about writing in French Canada flowed to literate English Canadians."[3]

Collin retired in 1959, and published almost nothing afterward.[3] He died in London, Ontario, in 1984.[1]


He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1950.[3]




  • Clockmaker of Souls: A study of Paul-Jean Toulet. New York: C. Kendall, 1933.
  • Archibald Lampman. Toronto: 1934.
  • The White Savannahs. Toronto: Macmillan, 1936
    • (with introduction by Germaine Warkenton), The White Savannahs: The first study of Canadian poetry from a modern viewpoint. Toronto & Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 1975.
  • French-Canadian Letters. Toronto: 1945.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Collin, William Edwin, The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton, AB: Hurtig, 1988), 460. Print.
  2. The White Savannahs: The First Study of Canadian Poetry from a Modern Viewpoint (paperback), Web, Jan. 27, 2013.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Germaine Warkenton, Introduction, The White Savannahs, Toronto & Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 975, 8. Google Books, Web, Apr. 2, 2017.
  4. MIchael Gnarowski, Poetry in English 1918-60, Poetry in English, Canadian Encyclopedia, Edmonton, AB: Hurtig Press, 1988, 1697. Print.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Search results = au;William Edwin Collin, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 2, 2017.
  6. W.E. Collin, "A Few Pages in the History of Canadian Literature," Canadian Poetry 11 (Fall/Winter 1982). Web, Apr. 2, 2017.

External linksEdit

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