ralph mortimer jones poems

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A collection of published poems by Ralph Mortimer Jones (1879-1969)


Ralph Mortimer Jones (1879-1969)My grandfather, Ralph Mortimer Jones, wrote poems. In those days, many people wrote poems. Ralph was good enough that several of his poems were published. My understanding of Ralph when he was alive was minimal. I was young and I didnt really want to know him. I would be dragged to Boston on the mandatory family visit, and we might sometimes drive Ralph around. (He never learned to drive.) Ralph was an old man then, losing his hearing and sight, and with a gravelly voice that I had trouble following. My memories are almost uniformly negative: straining to understand his questions, yet prodded by my parents to answer; once being offered half-melted ice cream from a malfunctioning refrigerator; finally wondering at the blue powder spread along the baseboards of his room. In the end I remember sitting shiftily in his hospital room, shortly before he died.

It was only later I got a more whole idea of who he had been. His daughter, my Aunt Jean, described him to an interviewer once in this way: His mind seethed with wit and a quiet love of just being alive.1 Ive heard similar things from others. It comes through in his poems. After Ralph died in January 1969, my father took me up to Boston to look over his things and see if there was anything there I wanted. I wound up taking a 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica and a 1913 Oliver typewriter, both of which seem remarkably to have satisfied Ralphs needs in these departments over the rest of his life. If there were poems there too, I dont know what became of them. If any survive, they remain to be discovered. Over the years I gradually grew more interested in Ralph. Somewhere along the way, I learned that he had written poetry, and that some of his poems had even been published. These published poems are what I have now gathered in here. I have arranged the poems for the most part by date of publication. Serendipitously, this arrangement often produces meaningful groupings of the poems. Ive also provided a bit of Ralphs life, to serve as a rudimentary frame to the poems.

Ralph grew up in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, a town on the Bay of Fundy, with its famous extreme tides. Wolfvilles own claim to fame was Acadia University, where Robert V. Jones, Ralphs father, had once been a student and had now long been a professor, teaching Greek and Latin. Acadia was a Baptist institution, and the Joneses were fervent Baptists. Reportedly, Ralphs father had intended his older1

Quoted in Shirley Dobson Gilroy, Amelia, Pilot in Pearls (Link Press, 1985)


brother Aubrey for the ministry, but Aubrey drowned in a swimming accident when Ralph was seven, and this burden was assumed by a reluctant but dutiful Ralph. Wolfville was a small townjust 2,000 people, nearly all of them Baptists. And Acadia, where Ralph spent four years as a general (non-degree) student, was a similarly small university. There were 33 students in Ralphs senior class. The world Ralph grew up ina world of small towns, gaslight, and horse-power was very different from the world in which he would spend most of his adult life, but this earlier world persists as the background to many of his poems.

The earliest poem I have found is titled Loves Law. It was published in the June 1902 issue of The Canadian Magazine and dates from Ralphs student days.

LOVES LAW A FAIR Maid had a heart and sought to sell it, And many came to gaze and some to buy, And one poor lad (alack! I weep to tell it), Who did but sigh and sob and sob and sigh, Why do you sigh and sob, good lad? I said. Alas, have you not heard? Sweet Cupid's dead. And rich men came and flashed rare gems, and flaunted Smooth silks to soften sleep; and great men came And offered gilt renown; and princes vaunted The tawdry splendour of a noble name. But still the Maiden shook her lovely head, Your wares do shine, but so does glass, she said. But one sweet Night that whispered like a lover, The lad of sobs and sighs slipped thro the crowd And stole the heart. And when they did discover The prize was gone, the Rich and Great and Proud Denounced the thief; but she did turn soft eyes Of liquid love on him, and spoke thus wise: The law of love is good. Yet doth it punish Not him who steals, but him who pays; and cries Him but a foolish knave who doth diminish By what he gives the worth of what he buys. For lawful love is most unlawful trade, And he who steals shall keep, the Maiden said. 2

Ralph was at Acadia until 1902, first as a student, then as an instructor helping his father teach the other students Greek and Latin. In the autumn of that year Ralph applied to the Rochester Theological Seminary, in Rochester, New York, graduating in 1906 with a B.A. My grandmother, Gladys Whidden, graduated that same year from Acadia Ladies Seminary. She came from a well-to-do family in Antigonish, a town some distance east of Wolfville. Ralph and Gladys were married that August in Antigonish and left almost immediately for Chester, Vermont, where Ralph took up his duties as a Baptist minister in September, at the age of 27. They would live in Chester for the next fourteen years, accumulating around them a young family. In his Chester ministry, Ralph succeeded the Rev. Henry Crocker, a formidable figurepresident of the state Baptist historical association, author of a massive History of the Baptists in Vermont (1913), and a Civil War veteranbut also, like Ralph, an amateur poet. Ralph and Henry became good friends and no doubt helpful critics of one anothers work. In honor of Henrys eightieth birthday in 1925, his sons had a collection of his poetry published. I have been unable to find any poems from Ralphs first years in Chester. Perhaps he was preoccupied adjusting to family life and the life of a pastor. He is said to have been something of an introvert, which likely made his chosen profession something of a challenge for him. In later years a colleague noted of him that, while a fine preacher and scholar, He does not do much pastoral work due to a shyness in meeting people.2 Gladys returned to her parents home in Antigonish to give birth to her first two children, Leah in 1907 and my father in 1911, but the later twomy Uncle Bob (1914) and Aunt Jean (1918)were born in Chester. To this early preference of my grandmother I owe my dual citizenship.

Ralphs first two poems from this period were composed after war broke out in Europe in 1914. The poems share a pessimism about the war and what it represents to him.

A MODERN GRIEVANCE A THOUSAND men loafed on the deck, Above the lapping tide,2

Ltr from Charles Durden, minister of 1st Baptist Church, Bloomington, Ill., to John F. Vichert, dean of the Colgate Rochester Divinity School, 24 January 1930


When death like a rat, stole underneath, And they knew not how they died. A hundred men lay on the hill, All in the idle sun; Death clove the air ten miles away, And shattered every one. No foeman's face the sailor saw, Nor sword the soldier lifted; There was only the trail of a periscope, And a little smoke that drifted. Oh, give me the pike and the saber-slash, And the pant of the foeman's breath, When eye to eye and foot to foot Men fought with visible death. Give me the shock of Waterloo, And the shriek of Trafalgar, The rush and riot of sweating troops, And the pounding men-of-war. But not a rat with death in his nose, And a giant that croucheth low! Oh, curse the clever collegers Who trick a soldier so! [Munseys Magazine, June 1915] RECESSION THE hands of time turn back. Nations who played At being cultured weary of the game, Throw down their brittle toys. Once more arrayed For lust and war, true to his ancient fame The Goth goes out to battle. Neath the gloze Of Slavic smoothness flares the Tartar blood. The fiery Frank rushes to meet his foes; And, gloating at his side in deadlier mood, The naked Caledonian smites and kills. Not less the furious Celt. And, where the sun Gleams cold on snowy heights of Raetian hills, The age-old Roman grapples with the Hun. So, like a gilded dream, have passed away The thousand years that are but yesterday.


[Current Opinion, March 1916]

Most of Ralphs poems were published first in newspapers and only later in magazines or books. For example, Recession first appeared in the New York Post, and was later picked up by Current Opinion. In those days, a daily poem was a common feature of newspaper editorial pages, a practice that continued into the middle decades of the twentieth century.

On the lighter side, Ralph would occasionally include a snippet of verse when writing to relatives, with the poem often tied to the occasion of the letter. The following is an example. Its taken from a letter Ralph wrote to his parents in early 1916, when my Uncle Bob was a toddler. In the letter, Ralph noted that Robert is costing a lot. But, dear lad, we dont grudge it! 3 In the poem, Ralph plays on the similarities between his fathers name, Robert V. Jones, and his sons name, Robert P. Jones.

Said Robert V. To Robert P.: What splendid chaps we two are: Said Robert P. To Robert V.: Im not as good as you are! Said Robert V. To Robert P.: You will, when youre a man, sir. Said Robert P. To Robert V.: Ill do the best I can, sir.

In the same letter Ralph optimistically downplayed concerns over the health of his father, who had recently retired from teaching: [I] pray that I, at half your age, may be half as sprightly. His father would die the following year.


Ltr to his parents, 23 March 1916



It seems reasonable to surmise that Ralph composed poems for his children from time to time. If so, the following three, which appeared in The Youths Companion in 1917 and 1918, might be assumed to represent the cream of that crop.

VERBIAGE I ASKED a pretty Adjective To go with me to town. She


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