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James B. Hodgson

[A poem by John Logan ('43) in tribute to Prof. Hodgson, who taught philosophy and religion at Coe from 1935 until his retirement in 1938.  Several of Logan's poems, including this elegy, were printed in the '68 issue of the Courier.  It was later published in his poetry collection The Zigzag Walk]

Elegy for the Rev. Mr. James B. Hodgson (1892-1963)

I haven't talked to you since your death
but your picture still breathes
and flames in my dreams and at my eye.
I can tell you as a boy
folding back and back the loan
of your family's farm
as the beginning morning light grows like grain
in Yorkshire or as wind-blown fur
changes texture-
while your mother
turns again the parti-colored
fields of quilts along the beds
and furiously sweeps your little room.
Or see you following the great, slow team
while you memorize the paradigms
of Greek
you pasted on the wooden wagon seat.

As a man you shephered a white
Presbyterian church, pointed and at rest,
a unicorn among the Iowa farms,
penned beside a field of marble colored blooms.
But I will surely not forget
that you also taught.
Small, lean body, annular face and eyes, metal rims
and a fixed (false teeth) grin
make up the picture
of my first beautiful teacher.
You taught us to listen to a book
like a lost, ancient father's talk,
and from the light in your eyes we knew
you
would become aroused
if a handsome library passed.
You gave me Goethe's Faust in German
and together we struggled over "time" in Bergson.
(Still for some instruction you were not so strong--
walked away from a film on sex for the young.)
And you paid
the favorite praise to my poems when you said,
small eyes gray with peace,
"
You have experienced deeply both of nature and of grace."

I left the school, tried my young luck.
But I kept coming back
as if to beg someone's pardon.
Your wife made lunch in the garden
while you caressed the flower beds,
patting the dirt and pulling weeds-
or talked of your son studying abroad,
of your wife's portrait paintings on the wall,
and of your own apocalyptic book-undone until you would "retire
and have the time."
Twice I stayed the night.
But you would never break
reserve, and said at last,
"
I shall follow your career with interest."

Sixty-five came, and you bought a tiny farm
where you turned
your father's earth over in your hand
and cherished close your aging wife.
But she gave up her life
the very first, quiet year,
and you would not stay there
by yourself, nor finish up your work.
Soon you too took sick
and died-with your mouth and cheek
all caved in like a hill of earth
under the heavy disc of a stroke,
unable to talk.

Still it isn't this I remembered on the afternoon
I learned your final lesson.
I was filled with an ancient image
seated on the stage
as you waited to speak at school.
You seemed to curl
forward into a ball;
your heavy head fell,
hands were born farther down between the knees
as an infant is
before he leaves his early night.
You seemed to become more taut,
more formal
or compact, more integral.
And as the mass of your body bent,
and folded some, I saw it give off bright
streams as of language or light!

 
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