Young, Andrew

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Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3246

Young, Andrew 1885–1971

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Young, a Scottish-born British clergyman and an authority on wild flowers, received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1952. A Scottish nature poet and an English metaphysician, he was untouched by fashion. He also wrote plays and literary criticism; and his nonfiction works, such as A Prospect of Flowers and A Retrospect of Flowers, have found a wider public than his poetry. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Born while Tennyson, Arnold and Hopkins were alive, and still at work (on a prose book) a year after the publication of Ted Hughes's Crow, Andrew Young neither influenced nor—remarkably—was influenced by any of the passing trends in English poetry. His work takes little account of current events or the changeable climates of this century's thought. His concerns are with the eternal themes, his imagery drawn almost exclusively from what is permanent and immutable in nature; his poems only seem dated on those rare occasions when he introduces an aeroplane, a gramophone, a flying-boat. For all this quality of timelessness, Andrew Young's poetry belongs unchallengeably to the modern movement, admired and respected by nearly every one of his fellow-practitioners. But owing to its special elusiveness, the poetry is still often under-estimated. To dismiss or patronise a poet of Andrew Young's great gifts as a mere, minor nature poet is to misconstrue what his poems are essentially about.

His powerfully individual brand of modernity springs not from his subject-matter but from his attitudes and the clarity of style he adopts to express these attitudes. Fiercely intellectual and objective in approach, unrhetorical and terse in his use of language, he achieves a simplicity of expression both in the miraculously-wrought lyrics and in the long poems which, with their casual and everday speech-patterns, recreate the standard pentameter by a tightly-controlled process of demolishing and rebuilding it. Andrew Young is a master-craftsman—a poet's poet—but he's impossible to parody or to steal from.

He wears his scholarship lightly, and his vast knowledge of theology, natural history, topography, literature and philology is a vital ingredient of his vision, but seldom intrudes on the page. What it does do, in conjunction with his religious and mystical demeanour, is to create a metaphysical poetry full of wit and intellectual conceits; a poetry very far removed from the nature-notes of his Georgian contemporaries. Natural objects are used, with love, sometimes for their own sake; but usually they are no more than the starting-points from which the poet presents a world, a life, a way of seeing, which we might never have perceived for ourselves. His image-making, a blend of exact observation and fanciful allusion, makes us see both the similarities and the significant dissimilarities existing between incongruous objects or ideas. We enter a new dimension of awareness, astonished to re-examine the clichés of common experience; we recognise that rivers can be drowned in flood or frozen brooks be their own bridges, that an albino blackbird can be white as sin, that idleness can be shirked, that a spider's web really is like a Greek theatre. Vivifying as these images are, the best surprises are those which startle or terrify.

Ted Walker, "Ancient but Modern," in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), February 22, 1974, p. 266.

Is it at all significant for poets to be parsons (rather than doctors, teachers or university librarians)? It's certainly easy to feel that in theological terms, and even in pastoral terms, they are likely to be mavericks. For Andrew Young,

             churches were my love and study,
        Not theology.

In this passage of 'Into Hades' he goes on to describe his favourite...

(The entire section contains 3246 words.)

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