E.J. Pratt: Themes and Settings in “NewFoundland” and “Ice Floes” E.J. Pratt is a poet who is especially well known for his narrative poems, which are in the nature of epic tales that are told about man’s battle with nature, and his experiences at sea and other Canadian stories [Froesce, n.d.]. His poems may be divided into two categories, the longer epic narrative poems which have drawn more public attention and the shorter variety. The poem “Ice floes” is an example of the former, while the poem “Newfoundland” is an example of the latter. The poem “Ice Floes” details the experiences of several men who are battling the frozen waters of the arctic in the pursuit of seals, but as they are busy skinning and scalping the seals, the fury of a storm ravages the area. The poem ”Newfoundland” is also about the sea, a descriptive poem that touches upon the tides and the weeds, the winds and the crag. Therefore, both these poems essentially deal with the theme of the sea and its constituents. There are other similar themes explored in these two poems, of which the fury of the wind and the power of the sea are the predominant ones.
Analysis of themes:
According to Sutherland (1972), Pratt’s shorter poetry “has limitations that become most apparent when he abandons narrative for a shorter form “(p 27). But the universal theme resounds through both kinds of Pratt’s poetry. The very absence of distinctive characters in his poems and the focus on the elements of nature – in the case of these two poems, the sea- expresses the power and strength of the elements of nature and its universality within the scheme of life. Pratt’s poems have been criticized as being too impersonal and detached [Froese, n.d.] but the absence of strong, human individuals or the personification of humans in the general “we” as in “Ice Floes” is because Pratt “appears to view the universe as rationally ordered” [Davey, 1974, pp 65]. In both the works, Pratt depicts the theme of the superiority of the sea and the insignificance of man as compared to it. The very objectivity and impersonal nature employed in the poems serves to enhance the vast strength and superiority of the sea as a rationally ordered part of nature.
The theme of the insignificance of man versus the fury of the sea is a recurring theme in both poems. This is enhanced through the ability of the sea to bring pain to man. In the poem “NewFoundland” : “It is red as the heart’s blood and salt as tears”, while in “Ice Floes” we see the same pain “by the cries we heard” as men were borne out to sea “and were lost”. The sea brings loss and death, its fury and glory are both equally emphasized by the poet. The poem “Newfoundland” depicts the sea’s ability to bring death in conjunction with the wind: “In their left are the waters of death” while the poem “Ice Floes” ends on the “count of sixty dead”. The wild rage of the sea contrasted with the intense cold of its breezes occurs in both poems. In “Newfoundland” the poet presents images of the sea as a series of sharp contrasts and negatives, while in the poem “Ice Floes’ the same images of the sea – the wild rage and its freezing winds are depicted through the story of the death of the men who are lost to its depths.
Thus both of Pratt’s poems focus on this theme of the constant tension that exists between nature and people[Froese, n.d.], the tension that arises time and again, which is portrayed through contradictory terms such as “harmonies of new floods” and “wide yawning spaces of water”. The very contradictions indicate conflict and tension – the eternal battle between man and nature, portrayed in the supremacy of the sea.
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