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Richard Hovey [1864-1900]


Poetry was hardly a significant part of my public school education, and by the time I got to college, it was too late. My relationship with poetry would always be stiff, artificial, ex post facto.

I did write one long poem while at university, a longish, self-consciousness plod celebrating a turning point for me—not so much a coming-of-age piece as a coming-to-grips. Perhaps they’re one in the same. It’s title—“Norman, summer of 1970”; I hadn’t yet read James Agee—didn’t even hint at the shallow profundities awaiting the hapless reader. With great good fortune, I misplaced the only typescript years ago. So you have been spared. You’re welcome.

Writing about Wright many posts ago, I wondered about the 19th century poet Richard Hovey, just three years Wright’s senior and dead at thirty-six, just as Wright was coming into his own and developing the Prairie Style of his first period. It was through him that I learned of the Dartmouth poet: Hovey had written something titled “Taliesin”, a reference to the Welsh bard that Wright would be hard pressed to ignore. So I dutifully found a collection of Hovey’s work, but found it unreadable: my eyes slid over the words but afforded me no traction, despite his best intent. A single line, just a fragment in fact, lodged with me: “…to fashion worlds in little.” That should be enough, and has been, for it emboldens me even today to keep the Agincourt Project alive.

That being said, I revisited Mr Hovey today and found cause to give him another try:

WHEN we are dead I firmly do believe
We shall slip back into the primal sea
Of the universal life, that there shall be
No such false joys as on this earth deceive
—Nay, nor no truer ones—nor cause to grieve
Nor terror nor despite nor mockery
Nor love, life’s strongest bitterest mystery
And while we still are struggling in the strife
Surely it is a gracious boon though small
That one brief sweet real joy at least there is,
To be about to die and know that all
The anguish and the agony of life
Will not last longer than a lover’s kiss.

Whatever school of poetics has been assigned him, Hovey is, at heart, a Gnostic, and for that glimmer I am glad, as I look toward “that one brief sweet real joy.”

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