Apr 23, 2009

A Poet of the Pacific

A poet whose work I have always admired a great deal is Donald Drummond, a former student of Yvor Winters's at Stanford in the 1940s. His poetry was featured in the second regional poetry anthology Winters edited, Poets of the Pacific, Second Series. Drummond is wholly forgotten now. I do not know of a single writer or critic who has mentioned his work in the past 50 years. Here's a strikingly well composed poem of Drummond's from the pacific poets anthology, which was first published in 1949:

To My Father

The strong grow stronger in their faith
And from their strength their faith grows strong.
And you who fastened on a wraith
Which moved John Wesley were not wrong

To fix your being to that rock
From which the purest water flowed,
Allying pity to the stock
Whom Calvin fired into a goad

Which pricked old kings and cardinals
To fury, and whose faith subdued
The Plymouth winter, and the calls
Of flesh which tore the multitude,

Who built a solitary state
Upon the bare Laurentian soil,
Who looked on slothfulness with hate
That moment they were hating toil,

You were not wrong to scorn the man
Who scorning, turned the other cheek,
Nor with your grave religious scan
To seek the best which best men seek.

And you may challenge, not condemn
The risk each generation runs:
That faith from which your being stems
Prove insubstantial to your sons.

This is moving poem, and much of the emotion derives from the superb handling of the seemingly rigid structure. Note that it has a theme that it consonant with my discussion of Agnes Lee's "Convention" last week. The long second sentence, which runs over several stanzas, is particularly charged with emotion. Drummond had a style most readers nowadays would consider wooden. But I find his style to be particularly suited to a revival of classicism in our times, well ordered and dignified. This style is not going to be especially popular, I realize. But it pays well on careful reading. In this poem, the subtle variations from the strict meter and controlled structure are very well executed. There is only one minor flaw, this in punctuation. The line ending in "hating toil" should end with a semi-colon. As punctuated, the comma makes for a run-on sentence.

Finally, I pause to note that Drummond is one of the many, many students Winters taught whom he did not champion as great poets. Winters has far, far, FAR! too many times been accused of nepotism, for supposedly ridiculously favoring poets unheralded by any critic other than himself. But Drummond, as fine as his work was, did not merit much discussion in Winters writings, and he chose none of his poetry for the Winters Canon. Let me state again: it's time for critics to shut up -- stop making this silly charge of nepotism, which has unjustly damaged Winters's reputation. It is true that Winters thought a few of his students wrote great poetry, but I will both defend those judgments and counter that he passed over the work of many fine poets who have been lamentably forgotten. Donald Drummond is one.

No comments: