Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Neglected Poets: Andrew Young

Many of my favorite poems have been written by poets who I consider to be "neglected."  There are various reasons for this neglect.  Perhaps it has to do with literary "reputations" and (Heaven forbid) literary "criticism."  (I am not an unremitting foe of literary criticism, but its role has been a trifle (!) inflated in recent times.)  Whatever the reason for the neglect, it saddens me that wonderful poets and poems do not receive the attention they deserve.  One of my goals is to share these poets and poems with you.

Andrew Young (1885-1971), who was born in Scotland, was first a Presbyterian minister and, later, an Anglican vicar.  He wrote poetry throughout his long life.

          A Dead Mole

Strong-shouldered mole,
That so much lived below the ground,
Dug, fought and loved, hunted and fed,
For you to raise a mound
Was as for us to make a hole;
What wonder now that being dead
Your body lies here stout and square
Buried within the blue vault of the air?

If you wish to read more of Andrew Young's poetry, try to find a copy of his 1960 Collected Poems: it is illustrated with wood-engravings by Joan Hassall.  The engraving below is by Hassall: 


Eric Thomson said...

“What do entrepreneurs of intellectual or critical fashion do when faced with the peculiarities of Andrew Young (1885-1971)? It is an exclamatory question. The evident answer is they do nothing; or rather they do not allow themselves to be faced by a poet whose structures and substance - or apparent substance, quickly looked at and passed over - are not of the most intricate, and do not fit usefully into their scheme of relationships and their critical formulae. They leave him alone, outside argument, no doubt to be enjoyed, along with Herrick on tistietosties or Dorothy Wordsworth on fox¬gloves, or Kilvert on blue hills and dog roses, or Dufy painting a regatta, by the unserious. And others take him up, and he is reduced to a simplistic property, to a "nature poet", owned, managed, proclaimed and interpreted or characterized in their own image by simpletons.
This won't do.”
For what will do, readers should go to Geoffrey Grigson’s 1982 collection ‘Blessings, Kicks and Curses’ in which Young is one of the happy few not to receive a kicking or a curse from the pugnacious Grigson (the passage quoted above is the opening paragraph). Young was in fact one of Grigson’s few rivals in the description of the English countryside and flora (in A Prospect of Britain, 1956).
The dead mole actually gets a Hassel wood engraving to itself on pg 63 of Andrew Young: The Poetical Works (ed by Edward Lowbury and Alison Young, Secker and Warburg 1985), which contains another mole poem in ‘Mole-hill on the Downs’. Thank you for drawing attention to Young (a fellow Elginite). Lost but now perhaps a little better known.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Thomson: Thank you very much for providing the fine passage from Geoffrey Grigson - I had not come across it before. (Yet another book to track down!)

I am delighted to discover another admirer of Andrew Young. I am certain there are others. Thank you for visiting the blog, and for taking the time to post a comment.

Nige said...

Young's Selected Poems are in print (Carcanet) - I have them - and in case I haven't yet welcomed you to the blogscape - welcome! This is very much my kind of blog...

Stephen Pentz said...

Nige: Thank you very much for visiting, and for the kind comments about this blog. I have been visiting Nigeness for quite some time, and thoroughly enjoy it. (I have posted comments as "Mr Bleaney" from time-to-time.)

Anonymous said...

I first read Andrew Young's poetry many years ago. Two of my favourite poems are “Thistledown" and "At Formby".

Another poet whose work celebrates nature is John Clare. I wonder how popular he is today.

I'm posting this comment anonymously, from the U.K.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you very much for visiting, and for your comments. Yes, "Thistledown" and "At Formby" are lovely poems, aren't they? As for John Clare: I think that he is quite popular today, especially since all of his poetry manuscripts were edited and published in the large Oxford edition in recent years. I agree with you that Young and Clare go well together.

Thank you again. I hope that you will return soon.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I wouldn't say the importance of literary criticism has been "inflated"-rather that most of it just isn't very good. Borges said that the critics he enjoyed were those who, when discussing an artwork, were able to create new works of their own (he mentioned Emerson as one example). I agree, and I find that most critics lack the ability or inclination to do this.
Great post, and excellent blog.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you very much for visiting and commenting, and for the kind words about the blog.

What I was trying to get at by using the word "inflated" was (1) instead of reading poetry itself, a fair number of people feel that they need to turn to criticism in order to understand the poetry, and (2) academicians have abandoned the actual words of the poems to go off on tangents that have nothing to do with the words, but have a great deal to do with their ego and their pet theories.

I confess that I'm a little bit wary of Borges's suggestion that critics can create new works of their own. I think I see what he is getting at. But I cannot say that I'm convinced. I've seen too much critical excess in the past 40 years or so, none of it artistic.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I agree with you when it comes to academic criticism (one exception for me being Nabokov's lectures). I believe that in order to be a good critic, a writer has to be an artist in his own right, and artists are as rare in universities as they are everywhere else.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you for the follow-up comment. I think that you and I are in basic agreement. I haven't read Nabokov's lectures, but I believe that, say, Eliot, Auden, Randall Jarrell, and Larkin all wrote criticism of the sort you describe.

Thanks again.

E J Kimber said...

Things are not as bad as they were, but it is still hard to get traditional lyric poets the status they deserve, especially with someone like Andrew Young, who wrote as though he were [as it were] a reincarnation of John Clare and a cousin of W H Davies.Literary critics like linguistic cryptograms, something to make them feel opinion-formers for some kind of elite in-crowd which in due course gets supplanted by another such clique whenever the literary fashion changes. Young's work has no place in the annals of literary cryptography, so he will be always be as beloved and unfashionable as his fellow-poets who are also, as you say, characteristically neglected for being 'too reasonable, too truthful', as Yeats disgracefully said of James Reeves. Or how about Edmund Blunden, another case-in-point. Fundamentally the literary modernists wanted to re-educate the rest of us as to what poetry is supposed to be: but we know better.....

Stephen Pentz said...

E. J. Kimber: thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts. You and I are in complete agreement as to the havoc wrought by the critics. As you say, they like to solve (or is it create?) puzzles and to over-complicate matters. Thus, poets like Young and the others you mention are of no interest to them. Which is fine by me, actually. And time will do the winnowing, regardless of what the critics say.

Thank you again.

Cock o' the South said...

A latecomer to this thread and perhaps unread, but one of my favourite poems has always been the one by Young that starts

I see you did not try to save
The bouquet of white flowers I gave
So fast it withers on your grave

Can't remember the title, although I can do the whole poem. I read it in a Stephen Spender-edited anthology of 20th-century poetry, which I think was published in the 70s. Great anthology by the way.

Stephen Pentz said...

Cock o' the South: Thank you for the reference to Young's poem, which is lovely. The title is: "Passing the Graveyard."

Thank you very much for stopping by, and for your comment. I hope you will return soon.