E. J. Pratt

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Edwin John Pratt was born in Newfoundland, the son of John Pratt, a Methodist missionary from Yorkshire, and Fanny Knight, a sea-captain’s daughter. Pratt spent his first twenty-three years in Newfoundland, and his early life in the outport villages marked him: The sea can be felt in his rhythms and the coastal shore perceived in his imagery. In 1901, he graduated from the Methodist College in St. John’s. For nearly six years, Pratt was a probationer in the Methodist ministry who taught and preached in various villages. In 1907, he elected to go to Toronto to study philosophy at Victoria College. He soon earned his M.A. degree, then decided to complete a B.A. in divinity. In 1917, having again changed his field of study, he received his Ph.D. in psychology. Pratt married Viola Whitney in 1918; two years later, she gave birth to their only child, Mildred Claire. Also in 1920, Pratt shifted careers again: This time he became a professor of English at Victoria College, a position he retained until his retirement in 1954, when the title professor emeritus was conferred on him. Pratt died ten years later. In academic terms, then, this poet’s training was unusually long and varied; its effects can be seen in his poetry. Pratt’s early life in Newfoundland taught him to love poetry that was as direct and immediate as a ballad of the sea, and his later years of education in philosophy, divinity, psychology, and literature supplied his characteristic themes. Pratt’s language is clear and plain, not regional; his themes are universal, not private.