As with any author, it is important to understand how Hodgson was received and reviewed by his contemporaries. There are several very enthusiastic reviews of WHH’s novels but, given the scarcity of his poetry, very little in that regard. In fact, there are only two known contemporary reviews of Hodgson’s poetry that are known to exist. This is, of course, marginal because the reviews are both of THE CALLING OF THE SEA which was not published until 1920, two years after Hodgson’s death.
In any event, the following is a review which appeared in the May, 1920, issue of The Bookman which was edited by WHH’s good friend, A. St. John Adcock. Although unsigned, there is a good chance that Adcock wrote the review himself. The review attempts to place Hodgson within the field of poetry by considering his unique voice and experiences.
Hope Hodgson’s Poems*
It is strange that such an essentially seafaring people as the English, who have produced so many great poets, have produced so few who have written great poetry of the sea, and that most even of those few have been landsmen. However beautifully the landsman may write about it, there is usually something lacking from his verse, for it needs a sailor who has known the sea long and intimately in all its moods to interpret it aright. There are finer things in Swinburne’s and Tennyson’s sea pictures than any you will find in Falconer’s rather wooden “Shipwreck,” but Falconer was a sailor, and his “Shipwreck” has survived for a century and a half because he had heard the voice of the storm when the black night and the tumultuous waves were all about him; he had been wrecked and had seen his comrades swept overboard and struggling till they were ruthlessly drawn down into the endless waste of waters; and he has put his personal experiences into his verse, what he actually saw and heard and thought and suffered, with a simple realism that makes it alive and vivid in spite of its crudities.
That realistic truthfulness is the outstanding quality in Hope Hodgson’s poems. He died, a soldier, on the fields of France; and for some ten years before the war he had lived by his pen and won a considerable reputation as a novelist; but for eight years before that he had followed the sea and gave his heart to it, and its influence is over all the best of his work. Most of his novels and short stories drew their inspiration from it, but the eeriness, the mystery, the cruelty and terror of it appealed to him more potently than did its quieter, happier aspects. He was keenly susceptible to its wonder and its beauty, but for him the wonder and the beauty often had a suggestion of something sinister underlying them. It is so in his tales, and it is so in these poems. This consistency is the natural result of his sincerity, and it is the note of sincerity that gives his poems much of their forcefulness. His passion for the sea was no pose but a real and deep emotion, as spontaneous as the verse he wrote about it. There is a bizarre imaginative power in such a blend of fantasy and realism as “The Place of Storms”; his descriptive pieces, such as “Storm,” “The Ship,” “Down the Long Coasts,” are etched effectively in vigorous black-and-white. He reached a higher level in his prose, but he was a true poet as he is a true novelist of the sea.
There is an excellent frontispiece portrait, and an introduction in which Mr. St. John Adcock gives some personal recollections and a character sketch of the author.
*”The Calling of the Sea.” By W. Hope Hodgson. Introduction by A. St.
John Adcock. 2s. 6d. net. (Selwyn & Blount.)
–[Unsigned.] “Hope Hodgson’s Poems.” Bookman (London) 344 (May 1920): 81.
(Many thanks to Phillip Ellis for putting on the trail of this item and transcribing it for the blog!)