Born in Yorkshire in 1871, Ralph Hodgson was a poet who many saw as a traditionalist antidote for the modernist movement of the early 20th Century. He wrote most of his poems during a period in his 30s and 40s, publishing a number of collections including The Skylark and Other Poems.
His most famous single work, The Bull, is one of the most anthologized poems in English literature and his collections garnered a fair degree of critical success during his lifetime including the award of the Queen’s Medal for Poetry.
Unlike many of his poetic contemporaries though, Hodgson was a more reclusive figure and shied away from most forms of publicity. He was, according to Walter de la Mare, quite a talkative person despite his reticence for fame. He is noted as one of the Georgian poets, named so because his work appeared in one of five anthologies during the reign of King George V. Other poets who belong to this illustrious club are Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon, with whom Hodgson became firm friends.
Hodgson began his working life in London where he worked for a number of publications, producing illustrations and doing a little writing between 1890 and 1912. Because he was adverse to being well-known, not much is known about his life at this time, but in 1913 he combined with artist Claud Lovat Fraser and fellow writer Holbrook Jackson to create a small press, At the Sign of the Flying Flame. It through this avenue that Hodgson first began to publish his own poetry, including The Bull, which won him the Polignac Prize.
Two years later war broke out and the Flying Flame was put on hold, Hodgson joining the Royal Navy and afterwards the army. He wrote and published his collection Poems in 1917 which contained works such as The Song of Honour and gained a significant reputation for his verse.
Hodgson married three times. His first wife died in 1920 and he remarried shortly after and decided, in 1924, to take up a teaching post in Japan where he would remain for more than twenty years. He began work quietly translating many of the great classical Japanese poems at this time and it still presents perhaps his most important contribution to the art form.
Hodgson divorced in 1932 and then married Lydia Bolliger who was a fellow teacher and worked at the American mission in Japan. After 24 years in Japan, he finally left and headed for the United States, settling in Ohio where he became more involved in publishing for a while.
He was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1954, a few years before his friend Siegfried Sassoon. His last book, The Song of the Skylark and Other Poems, was published in 1958.
A poet who valued his own privacy, Hodgson died in 1962 at the age of 91 and was buried in Minerva, Ohio.