Fire Before Dark


94 pages
ISBN 0-88750-503-1





Reviewed by Michael O. Nowlan

Michael O. Nowlan was a teacher and writer in Oromocto, New Brunswick.


George McWhirter is a relatively new Canadian whose verse gets stronger with each new book. In The Island Man, he wrote that he “didn’t want to write about Canada until it had taken me over.” With Fire Before Dark, there is no doubt that he belongs “in this land to which I have wandered.”

McWhirter’s poems feature colours and tastes in metaphors of various dimensions. Each utterance provokes the image to multiply. Nature, still life, domestic scenes, and the metaphysical combine to illustrate a philosophy that is, on the one hand, basic to humankind while, on the other, it is tempting, provocative, tedious.

The heights of mountains and trees “grow with our gazing at them.” They become innocent challenges to discover and learn what it is to be in a new land seeking “training in the language.”

Fire Before Dark contains several descriptive lyrics which accent Canadian landscape, and there are a number of people-type poems which attempt to examine a Canadian character or identity. Because of the complexity of the task, no clear identification is made. The final and longest section is a series of poems which describe experiences with others learning a new language. There is life, growth, and development through language which, in turn, is the ultimate tool of the poet. Here McWhirter excels.

In some ways, George McWhirter presents paradox in Fire Before Dark. Perhaps, though, it is in the contradiction that we best see the true effort of the new Canadian writing poetry.


McWhirter, George, “Fire Before Dark,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,