It was in the late summer of 1943 that I picked up a recently published anthology of Canadian poetry and began to go through it. Being at the time at Sandy Bay on Cape Ann, where my "study" window looked out upon the sea, it was perhaps natural that I was suddenly attracted to a sea poem about a whale, which started off with an almost Byronic verve, in what one critic has called "rushing tetrameter." At the top of the page it simply said: "E. J. Pratt: The Cachalot." The poem was apparently in two parts and took five and a half pages. When I finished it I knew I had experienced the thrill of real discovery, something akin to what I felt long years ago when I first chanced upon the entirely different splendid rhetoric of Francis Thompson, and, later, the early sea songs of Masefield. I read the next, shorter poem "Silences," and the poem "The Old Eagle," and a fragment from what proved later to be, in my estimation, one of the most extraordinary poems of this war, "Dunkirk." "Canada has a great and original poet," I thought, remembering that much of the Canadian poetry I had read for years, like much American poetry before the turn of the century, had seemed to me derivative and, save in a few rare instances, not greatly distinguished. I wrote to the Macmillan Company of Canada to find out more about E. J. Pratt.
Today I am fortunate, I think, to count Ned Pratt as one of my best-loved literary friends. I "discovered" him (with eleven books of poetry to his credit!) when he had reached the age of sixty. Yet he is one of the youngest men of my acquaintance in his exuberance, enthusiasm, generosity, and good-fellowship. "The whole secret of genius," a younger poet wrote to me recently, "I am convinced, is vitality. Studying the lives of the great painters convinced me of that." Ned Pratt has enough vitality for ten poets. You have only to read, as I have now . . .