Neglected poets: Andrew Young

Richard Eurich, "Snow over Skyreholme" (1937)

Richard Eurich, “Snow over Skyreholme” (1937)

This week Stephen celebrates an unfairly overlooked poet…

Many of my favorite poems have been written by poets who I consider to be “neglected.” There are various reasons for this neglect. Perhaps it has to do with literary “reputations” and (Heaven forbid) literary “criticism.” (I am not an unremitting foe of literary criticism, but its role has been a trifle (!) inflated in recent times.) Whatever the reason for the neglect, it saddens me that wonderful poets and poems do not receive the attention they deserve. One of my goals is to share these poets and poems with you.

Andrew Young (1885-1971), who was born in Scotland, was first a Presbyterian minister and, later, an Anglican vicar. He wrote poetry throughout his long life.

A Dead Mole
Strong-shouldered mole,
That so much lived below the ground,
Dug, fought and loved, hunted and fed,
For you to raise a mound
Was as for us to make a hole;
What wonder now that being dead
Your body lies here stout and square
Buried within the blue vault of the air?

The clear sky – ‘the blue vault of the air’ – is a recurring preoccupation of Young’s. I have fond memories of visiting the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey and Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire. The weather was fine on the occasions that I visited — the combination of a deep green sward of grass, grey walls, and the blue sky was beautiful. I had (and have) no deep thoughts about the visits — nothing, for instance, about the remorselessness of time, the vanity of human wishes, the storied ecclesiastical history of England. What was (and is, in memory) remarkable was strolling on wide, soft floors of grass, surrounded by tall grey walls without a roof, doorways without doors, arched empty windows opening onto fields and trees. And, over and around it all, the huge sky.

The Ruined Chapel
From meadows with the sheep so shorn
They, not their lambs, seem newly born,
Through the graveyard I pass,
Where only blue plume-thistle waves
And headstones lie so deep in grass
They follow dead men to their graves,
And as I enter by no door
This chapel where the slow moss crawls
I wonder that so small a floor
Can have the sky for roof, mountains for walls.

The final two lines are lovely, of course. But “headstones lie so deep in grass/They follow dead men to their graves” is very fine as well.

Lapis lazuli — that exotic and redolent substance — makes an appearance in poems by three “major” poets: “Lapis Lazuli” by W. B. Yeats, “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church” by Robert Browning (“Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli”), and “This Solitude of Cataracts” by Wallace Stevens (“To be a bronze man breathing under archaic lapis”). But I humbly submit that Yeats, Browning, and Stevens cannot hold a candle to Andrew Young:

The Nest
Four blue stones in this thrush’s nest
I leave, content to make the best
Of turquoise, lapis lazuli
Or for that matter of the whole blue sky.

To finish, here are two poems appropriate to the season:

The Leaf
Sometimes an autumn leaf
   That falls upon the ground,
   Gives the heart a wound
And wakes an ancient grief.

But I weep not that all
   The leaves of autumn die,
   I only weep that I
Should live to see them fall.

The Last Leaf
I saw how rows of white raindrops
   From bare boughs shone,
And how the storm had stript the leaves
   Forgetting none
Save one left high on a top twig
   Swinging alone;
Then that too bursting into song
   Fled and was gone.

If you wish to read more of Andrew Young’s poetry, try to find a copy of his 1960 Collected Poems, illustrated with wood-engravings by Joan Hassall.

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About Author Profile: Stephen Pentz

Stephen Pentz curates poems and pictures at the First Known When Lost blog.

4 thoughts on “Neglected poets: Andrew Young

  1. Worm
    November 3, 2013 at 17:56

    a lovely read on this dark and windy night

  2. Brit
    November 4, 2013 at 13:45

    Thanks Stephen – I knew nothing of Andrew Young.

    By the way, if anyone else wants to suggest a ‘neglected poet’ for a future post, please do (

  3. November 4, 2013 at 17:00

    Worm and Brit: I’m pleased that you liked the poems. By the way, Young also wrote some fine prose works: A Prospect of Flowers: A Book about Wild Flowers (1945), A Retrospect of Flowers (1950), A Prospect of Britain (1956), and The Poet and the Landscape (1962). As the titles suggest, they exhibit the same interest in the natural world that his poems do, but they also bring literary and historical associations into play. They are worth tracking down.

    November 10, 2013 at 14:58

    I do like Andrew Young’s verse:-

    Cuckoos by Andrew Young

    When Coltsfoot withers and begins to wear
    Long silver locks instead of golden hair,
    And fat red catkins from black poplars fall
    And on the ground like caterpillars crawl,
    And bracken lifts up slender arms and wrists
    And stretches them, unfolding sleepy fists,
    The cuckoo in a few well-chosen words
    Tell they give Easter eggs to the small birds

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