“The Poetry of William Hope Hodgson” by E. A. Edkins

The fifth item to appear in the June, 1944, issue of THE READER AND COLLECTOR is this rather interesting article on Hodgson’s poetry by E. A. Edkins.  WHH’s poetry is something of an oddity in his work and is generally not studied.  Part of the reason for that is the fact that not much of it has been available.  Hodgson only published a few poems during his lifetime (that were not incorporated into his novels) and it was not until after his death that his widow arranged for the publication of two volumes of verse.  WHH’s biographer, Sam Moskowitz, states that this lack of success in the poetry field was a source of great disappointment with Hodgson.  But, as Edkins notes in this essay, Hodgson’s failure may not be particularly surprising.

I have not been able to find any biographical information about Edkins beyond what H.C. Koenig noted as an introduction or even a photo.  Perhaps one of our readers here can furnish something?  As previously, I have retained the spelling and typing which HCK used when the essay was published in 1944. –Sam Gafford

The Poetry of William Hope Hodgson

By E.A. Edkins

Premier writer of the National Amateur Press Association.  Has contributed essays, reviews and poetry to various journals since 1883.  Editor and publisher of the incomparable Causerie and co-editor with Tim Thrift of the best of the amateur magazines, The Aonian.

William Hope Hodgson lacks the poetic gift, principally because he is technically unskilled in poetic forms.  “The Voice of the Ocean” is of course largely derivative, and reveals pompous allegories that have been demoded since the time of Keats and Shelley.  Some of the classic poets used this form as a medium for the expression of philosophic concepts, naively overlooking the fact that philosophy and poetry are strange bedfellows.  In the metaphors and symbolisms employed by Hodgson, one detects an aching sense of beauty, a longing to rationalize and synthesize the emotions of a sensitive mind with the inscrutable brutalities of nature, a yearning to understand the baffling mystery of existence, but, unfortunately, not the slightest glimmering of real vision.  All of his reactions are the reactions of a bewildered thinker; and when he attempts a really bold flight, his effort to be tragic passes rapidly into melodrama and bathos.  It is significant that A. St. John Adcock, who wrote the introduction to “The Calling of the Sea”, is careful not to commit himself as to the merits of Hodgson’s verse; in fact, he hardly refers to it at all.  I am unacquainted with Hodgson’s prose fiction, but it is probably vastly superior to his verse.  He strikes me as one of those authors who depend a lot on “inspiration”, write loosely and rapidly, and never review their effusions.  He probably has a fertile imagination and considerable fluency of expression, but little if any sense of style or of cumulative effect.

Fantasy was effectively used by Edgar Poe, both in his prose and verse, but not the fantasy of what I believe is termed “science fiction”.  So too with Dunsany and Machen.  A fantaisiste is not necessarily a poet, but the Lords of Poesy are truly fantaisistes, living as Beddoes said, “in a world of furious fancies.”  Hodgson’s “Down the Long Coasts” is one of his most appealing poems and in “Grey Seas Are Dreaming of My Death” he almost becomes articulate.  At its worst his work is pure doggerel, as in “The Song of the Great Bull Whale”; at its best, one senses intimations of high emprise, grandiloquent dreams, hopeless frustrations, the unavailing sehnsucht of a soul tormented by beauty sensed dimly through impenetrable veils.




Filed under Hodgson, William Hope Hodgson

10 responses to ““The Poetry of William Hope Hodgson” by E. A. Edkins

  1. Pingback: Forgotten Poets: William Hope Hodgson | Phillip Ellis

  2. JM Rajala

    I emailed to your Yahoo address a photo of Edkins, taken from Timothy Thrift’s book edition of their amateur journal The Aonian.

  3. Gene Biancheri

    ERNEST A. EDKINS [1867-1946] was born in England and migrated with his family to Canada in 1869. His father was an expert gunsmith who had joined the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, then returned to England. Ernest was self-educated and became an executive for Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. His literary talents as a poet, essayist, editorialist, writer of short stories and critic were enhanced by an interest in amateur journalism — he joined The Fossils in 1906. After his retirement in 1934, he renewed his efforts in trying to improve the literary standards of amateur journalism through the influence of H. P. Lovecraft. Edward H. Cole, in his obituary for fellow Fossil Edkins, called him “probably the most notable writer [in] amateur journalism.” [Source of this bio: THE FOSSIL, Vol. XLIV, No. 2, October 1946.]

    • Thanks for that information, Gene! I was sure that someone had that even though I couldn’t find anything on the internet. Was he a friend of HCK?

      • Gene Biancheri

        I presume they were friends, since both were members of The Fossils and involved with electrical lighting/testing, etc. through their professions.

    • JM Rajala

      Gene, is your bio/bibliographical booklet on H. C. Koenig still available for purchase? I’m currently doing research for a “biographical dictionary” of H. P. Lovecraft’s associates, and it would for sure be useful material for an entry on Koenig.

  4. I have almost all his poems in different collections. The review is quite accurate. They are very interesting for historical reasons, and it’s neat to see how he tried to tackle such radically different styles and tones, but it’s true that most of them are not very good per se. Once in a while he’ll have a fantastic line or image, but it’s clear that he didn’t do the hard and painful revision work needed to gut that poem, keep that good line and image, and rebuild it from the ground up. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that this is true of _most_ poetry that was published in magazines from that era. His stuff was only marginally worse than what they were printing. Really, he needed more feedback from writers and editors, and more practice, and he could probably have sold a reasonable number of poems. But most importantly he needed to live longer and write more.

    That said, despite the fact that they are not great, I do think there should be a complete collection available, and kept in print, for those interested, for scholarly or historical reasons or just curiosity — a complete collection with a good critical introduction. They may not be great poems but they are historic, especially in the context of his much better stories and novels, and they should be out there for the curious.

    • Paul, I agree totally. Regardless of their merit, a complete collection of WHH’s poetry should be available for readers and scholars. I hope that such a volume will appear eventually but I am not holding my breath. It’s an easy enough feat to collect the two volumes published by his widow after his death but the ones included in Jane Frank’s collection THE LOST POETRY OF WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON may be subjected to copyright. And, I’m given to understand that there may be some more poems that didn’t make that collection either. It is true that WHH’s poetry is the least studied of all of his works. Hopefully that will change.

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