The Suburbanite
  • The Monday After: A poet past

  • English poet Ralph Hodgson was laid to rest in Minerva.

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  • Without a wish, without a will
    I stood upon that silent hill
    And stared into the sky until
    My eyes were blind with stars and still
    I stared into the sky.
    — From “A Song of Honour”
    By the time poet Ralph Hodgson adopted Minerva as his Ohio home in 1940, he had gained a reputation that placed him among the great English writers.
    “He brings a freshness of mind, a wealth of language and imagery, and a sustained power of expression such as have seldom been equaled in all the centuries of English poetry,” reviewed Georgian poetry publisher Sir Edward Howard Marsh early in the 20th century. “As long as poetry lasts, these poems will remain.”
    If you could bring her glories back!
    You gentle sirs who sift the dust
    And burrow in the mould and must
    Of Babylon for bric-a-brac;
    — From “Babylon”
    Hodgson, who certainly looked the part of an eccentric writer later in his life, didn’t just play at being a poet, although his body of work is small. He was published. Five collections of his work had gone to print before he settled southeast of Canton. The poetry was published late in the life of Hodgson, who was born in 1871.
    “Hodgson worked as a journalist in London and became the editor of Fry’s Magazine,” explained Christine L. Krueger in her “Encyclopedia of British Writers, 19th and 20th Centuries.” “He also worked as a scene-painter in New York and as an illustrator in London prior to the publication of his first collection of poetry, ‘The Last Blackbird’ (1907). One estimate held that the first edition of this sold a modest 20 copies. His later works met with more success: ‘The Bell and the Song of Honor’ (1914) earned the ... (British) Edmund de Polignac Prize.”
    “The Bell” had been preceded by “The Mystery” and “Eve,” both published in 1913. A collection called “Poems” was published in 1917.
    Then, for decades, the always-private Hodgson disappeared.
    Eve, with her basket, was
    Deep in the bells and grass,
    Wading in bells and grass
    Up to her knees,
    Picking a dish of sweet
    Berries and plums to eat.
    — From “Eve
    His absence was due to more than just his service in both the Royal Navy and British Army during World War I. Personal and professional experiences also limited his poetic output.
    Hodgson’s first wife, Janet Chatteris, died in 1920. He and his second wife, Muriel Fraser, with whom he was married in 1921, were divorced in 1927, in part, biographies say, because she didn’t like living in Japan, where he lectured in English at the Imperial University in Sendai.
    Page 2 of 3 - In Sendai, he met and married a missionary, the much-younger Lydia Aurelia Bolliger of Canton, who taught at a women’s college there. They left Japan in 1938 and eventually settled on a farm near Minerva they called Owlacres.
    “They moved to the Carroll County farm in 1940 and the poet was able to live the secluded life he sought,” wrote Repository writer Mary Peebles in his obituary. “He did not farm the land but enjoyed it as a sanctuary for birds and other wildlife.”
    Topics from nature dominated his later writing, poems spawned by both his living environment and his upbringing, according to a biographical overview accompanying a description of the Ralph Hodgson and Aurelia Bolliger Hodgson Papers in the Special Collections Department of Bryn Mawr College Library.
    “Hodgson’s childhood was spent in the English countryside,” the Bryn Mawr information notes, “an experience which fostered his love of nature and animals.”
    See an old unhappy bull,
    Sick in soul and body both,
    Slouching in the undergrowth
    Of the forest beautiful,
    Banished from the herd he led,
    Bulls and cows a thousand head.
    — From “The Bull”
    That little is known about Hodgson’s early life is a reflection of the reclusive existence he led in the country setting about six miles from Minerva. His life was his wife, his books, poems he penned, and the newspapers and periodicals that continued, wrote Peebles, “to fill the large mailbox at the end of a lane on the unpaved road winding past the farm.”
    “Until 1946, few persons were aware that an internationally-known literary figure lived in the vicinity,” Peebles wrote in Hodgson’s obituary. “The fact became known then when Mr. Hodgson received a gift of $1,000 from the National Institute of Arts and Letters as an award to ‘an eminent foreign poet living in America.’”
    While Hodgson “continued to shun publicity,” Peebles noted, “it was focused on him again on an international scale in 1954” when the poet, by then early in his 80s, was awarded the Gold Medal for Poetry presented by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth — 40 years after he had received Britain’s Polignac Prize.
    Time, you old gipsy man,
    Will you not stay,
    Put up your caravan
    Just for one day?
    — From “Time, You Old Gipsy Man”
    Two books of Hodgson’s poems followed the award. “The Skylark and Other Poems” was published in 1958 and ”Collected Poems” appeared in 1961.
    News about Hodgson’s death came on Saturday, Nov. 3, 1962.
    “Ralph Hodgson, regarded by many critics as the greatest English poet of his era,” wrote Peebles in The Repository, “died today at 2:45 a.m. in Alliance City Hospital.
    Page 3 of 3 - “The countryman-poet observed his 91st birthday Sept. 9.”
    The obituary appeared at the top of the front page. Hodgson has since been largely forgotten, except by scholars who continue to praise the poet.
    John Lucas, in a review of a 2008 biography, “Dreaming of Babylon: The Life and Times of Ralph Hodgson” by John Harding, may have described best the public reception to the poet in recent years.
    “Ralph Hodgson has a very odd place in modern poetry,” Lucas wrote. “He is at once accepted and ignored.”
    Reach Gary at 330-580-8303 or gary.brown@cantonrep.com. On Twitter: @gbrownREP

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