Stallworthy, Jon (Howie)
STALLWORTHY, Jon (Howie)
Nationality: British. Born: London, 18 January 1935. Education: Dragon School, Oxford, 1940–48; Rugby School, Warwickshire, 1948–53; Magdalen College, Oxford (Newdigate prize, 1958), 1955–59, B.A. 1958, B.Litt. 1961. Military Service: Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, Royal West African Frontier Force, 1953–55. Family: Married Gillian Waldock in 1960; one daughter and two sons. Career: Editor, Oxford University Press, London, 1959–71, and Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1972–74; deputy academic publisher, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1974–77; John Wendell Anderson Professor of English, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1977–86. Fellow, Wolfson College, reader in English literature, 1986–92, and since 1992 professor of English literature, Oxford. Chatterton Lecturer, British Academy, 1970; visiting fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 1971–72. Awards: Duff Cooper memorial award, 1974; W.H. Smith & Son literary award, 1975; E.M. Forster award, 1976; Southern Arts literary prize, 1998. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1971, and British Academy, 1990. Address: Long Farm, Elsfield Road, Old Marston, Oxford, England.
The Earthly Paradise. Privately printed, 1958.
The Astronomy of Love. London, Oxford University Press, 1961.
Out of Bounds. London, Oxford University Press, 1963.
The Almond Tree. London, Turret, 1967.
A Day in the City. Exeter, Exeter Books, 1967.
Root and Branch. London, Chatto and Windus-Hogarth Press, and New York, Oxford University Press, 1969.
Positives. Dublin, Dolmen Press, 1969.
A Dinner of Herbs. Exeter, Rougemont Press, 1970.
Hand in Hand. London, Chatto and Windus-Hogarth Press, and New York, Oxford University Press, 1974.
The Apple Barrel: Selected Poems 1956–1963. London, Oxford University Press, 1974.
A Familiar Tree. London, Chatto and Windus-Oxford University Press, and New York, Oxford University Press, 1978.
The Anzac Sonata: New and Selected Poems. London, Chattoand Windus, 1986; New York, Norton, 1987.
The Guest from the Future. Oxford, Perpetua Press, 1989.
Rounding the Horn: Collected Poems. Manchester, Carcanet, 1998.
Between the Lines: Yeats's Poetry in the Making. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1963.
Vision and Revision in Yeats's "Last Poems." Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1969.
Wilfred Owen. London, Chatto and Windus-Oxford University Press, 1974; New York, Oxford University Press, 1975.
Poets of the First World War. London, Oxford University Press, 1974
Louis MacNeice. London and Boston, Faber, 1995.
Singing School: The Making of a Poet. London, John Murray, 1998.
Editor, Yeats: Last Poems: A Casebook. London, Macmillan, 1968;Nashville, Aurora, 1970.
Editor, with Seamus Heaney and Alan Brownjohn, New Poems 1970–1971. London, Hutchinson, 1971.
Editor, The Penguin Book of Love Poetry. London, Penguin, 1973; as A Book of Love Poetry, New York, Oxford University Press, 1974.
Editor, The Complete Poems and Fragments, by Wilfred Owen. London, Chatto and Windus-Oxford University Press, 1983; New York, Norton, 2 vols., 1984.
Editor, The Oxford Book of War Poetry. Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1984.
Editor, The Poems of Wilfred Owen. London, Hogarth Press, 1985;New York, Norton, 1986.
Editor, First Lines: Poems Written in Youth from Herbert to Heaney. London, Carcanet, 1987.
Editor, Henry Reed: Collected Poems. London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1991.
Editor, Wilfred Owen: The War Poems. London, Chatto and Windus, 1994.
Editor, with Margaret Ferguson and Mary Jo Salter, The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 4th edition. New York, Norton, 1996.
Editor, with M.H. Abrams and others, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th edition. New York, Norton, 1999.
Translator, with Jerzy Peterkiewicz, Five Centuries of Polish Poetry, revised edition. London, Oxford University Press, 1970.
Translator, with Peter France, The Twelve and Other Poems, by Alexander Blok. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, and New York, Oxford University Press, 1970; as Selected Poems, London, Penguin, 1974.
Translator, with Peter France, Selected Poems, by Boris Pasternak. London, Allen Lane, and New York, Norton, 1983.*
Manuscript Collection: Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Critical Studies: "Playing with Words" by the author, in Times Educational Supplement (London), August 1976; by Harry Marten, in Contemporary Literature (Madison, Wisconsin), summer 1979; by the author, in World Authors 1975–1980, edited by Vineta Colby, New York, Wilson, 1985; in Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms, edited by David Lehman, New York, Macmillan, 1988; interview with Jon Stallworthy by Sophie Ahmeen, in Plum Review, 4, fall-winter 1992; by Peter MacDonald, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 8 January 1999.
Jon Stallworthy comments:
When a poet is asked to "make a statement," he should respond with a poem, but I am tongue-tied in police stations, so will echo Keats: "I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affection." The changing seasons of "the heart's affection" have prompted the best of the poems I have written since, at the age of seven, I set myself to learn how to make poems as a carpenter makes tables and chairs. I count myself a maker, and such other things as I have made with words—studies of Yeats "at work," translations of poems by Blok and Pasternak—have been made with one purpose in view: to learn how to make better poems. And what is a poem? When my daughter asked that question, I found my tongue:
A POEM IS* * *
something that someone is saying
no louder, Pip, than my "goodnight"—
words with a tune, which outstaying
their speaker travel as far
as that amazing, vibrant light
from a long-extinguished star.
Martin Seymour-Smith has rightly described Jon Stallworthy as "a quiet poet, a fastidious craftsman." Though his forms are somewhat experimental in the later verse, he remains a traditionalist in subject matter, as indicated by his persistent preoccupation with family, England, and "good form." The sarcastic tone of "A Poem about Poems about Vietnam," from the 1960s, suggests his impatience with self-dramatization and showbiz.
As "an elegist for the British Empire," Stallworthy has written nostalgically, if occasionally satirically, about its institutions and personalities. These poems include—from the early collections—"Poem upon the Quincentenary of Magdalen College" and "Epilogue to an Empire 1600–1900" (for Trafalgar Day), as well as the later "Great Britain" and elegies to Margaret and Geoffrey Keynes.
In "The Peshawar Vale Hunt," characteristic in tone of Stallworthy's lament for a bygone era, a patron at the Horseshoe Bar of the Club raises his glass in mock salute to a photograph of hunters, circa 1910, saying,
If they could see
themselves now, groups on the grass
in their insolent poses! History
has put down the mighty
from their family seats; tumbled them, arse
over crop, out of the saddle.
Later in the poem, however, when the gentlemen in the photograph speak for themselves, they provide their own—and perhaps Stallworthy's—apologia for long-ago indiscretions:
Empire builder, with your back to the wall,
have you any last word to say?
"It is better to ride fiercely, and fall,
than never to ride at all."
"Here Comes Sir George" similarly challenges scornful contemporaries to recognize the skill of a provincial civil service officer, "the last of the titans."
Stallworthy's best poems make skillful use of incidents from his private life, as in "The Almond Tree," about his son, and "Making a Bed," for his wife. His most ambitious work also centers on family history in the sequence published as A Familiar Tree. Here he traces the movement of the Stallworthys over two centuries, from England to islands in the South Pacific to New Zealand and back to England, recording the family's continuities and conflicts in the midst of adventures and religious quests. In the opening poem, "At the Church of St. John Baptist, Preston Bissett," the speaker prays for guidance as he begins a verse chronicle of seven generations:
Let me go down to them and learn
what they learnt on their journeys.
And to the looted cavern
of the skull, let me restore
their sights, their broken speech, before
from these worn steps or steps like these
speechless to the speechless I return.
Some works are in a lighter vein, which Stallworthy inevitably handles well. The middle-aged speaker in "Elegy for a Mis-Spent Youth" decries his lack of assertiveness, years ago, as his thoughts return
to the attic over the square...
your dress over the back
of a chair, and the bed
where, nightly, drowsy with the fair
exchange of love and with the smell
of chestnut wicks lighting the square,
we never lay and never shall.
Editor and biographer of Wilfred Owen, Stallworthy has also written verse about the poet and World War I. "The Anzac Sonata," the title poem in his 1986 volume of new and selected poems, describes the lives of family members victimized by violence, beginning with the death of a young man in the Mediterranean in 1915. In a characteristically elegiac mood, the poem intersperses the harsh details of their lives with this refrain:
Lift and tighten
the horsehair bow,
to and fro.
In the midst of suffering there are also reasons for joy in almost any life, Stallworthy seems to say, and the sonata concludes with this appropriate musical notation:
At the last stroke
of the coda,
hold the note
there, that first note.
the fiddle's throat.