February 24, 2014

Death of Hovey: end his night of woe

Richard Hovey died in a New York hospital on February 24, 1900, at the age of 35. Born in Normal, Illinois in 1864, he grew up mostly in Washington, D.C., then enrolled at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he graduated in 1885. Hovey was an ambitious student, editing two student publications, giving the commencement oration, being elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and writing a version of the school song.

Even so, Hovey struggled to find a career. He abandoned both acting and the ministry before returning to his earlier hobby of writing. According to some accounts, he looked the part of a writer: flamboyantly dressed with a velvet jacket and flowing silk tie. Some have called him an American attempt at Oscar Wilde. His first books of, as they called it, "vagabond" poetry, were co-written with Canadian poet Bliss Carman. Other books by Hovey included dramatic updates of Arthurian legends.

After his death, his wife Henriette Hovey edited a final book, To the End of the Trail (1908), which included, with one exception, poems which had never been published in Hovey's lifetime, as well as a substantial number of translations from, among others, French poet Stéphane Mallarmé. Perhaps for his death an earlier poem would make for more appropriate reading: his poem "Dead" is dated 1890, for example. But for now, instead, here is "World and Poet" (1892):

"Sing to us, Poet, for our hearts are broken;
Sing us a song of happy, happy love,
Sing of the joy that words leave all unspoken, —
The lilt and laughter of life, oh sing thereof I
Oh, sing of life, for we are sick and dying;
Oh, sing of joy, for all our joy is dead;
Oh, sing of laughter, for we know but sighing;
Oh, sing of kissing, for we kill instead!"
How should he sing of happy love, I pray,
Who drank love's cup of anguish long ago?
How should he sing of life and joy and day,
Who whispers Death to end his night of woe?
    And yet the Poet took his lyre and sang,
    Till all the dales with happy echoes rang.

At the time of his death, Hovey was being treated for testicular cancer. After surgery, he apparently suffered a heart attack. He was buried with his mother's family in North Andover, Massachusetts.

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