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.