A passionate poet
There’s no doubt that Richard Augustus Parsons (1893-1981) had a passion for poetry.
His biography is simply told. Born at Bay Roberts, he was educated at Bay Roberts Academy and Bishop Feild College, St. John’s. In 1920, he married Bessie Ash Somerton (d. 1977) of Burgeo; four children were born to the union, Austin, Paul, Helen and Sheila.
Awarded the degree of Bachelor of Civil Laws at McGill University, Montreal, Parsons practiced law in Newfoundland from 1923 to the mid-1970s. In 1932, he was made a King’s Counsel. He was a Bencher of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Master of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland. He was a member of the Editorial Board of Chitty’s Law Journal.
In 1974, Memorial University of Newfoundland conferred on him the honourary degree of doctor of letters. In the same year, he was awarded an Honourary Associate in Education from the Nova Scotia Teachers’ College. In 1979, McGill University presented him with its Distinguished Service Award.
Parsons had been writing poetry for many years, in Bert Riggs’ words, “mainly lyrical poems that reflected the simplicity of outport life and the rugged beauty of the Newfoundland landscape.”
Parsons’ first book, Reflections, appeared in 1954. In his Foreword, Monsignor Michael F. Dinn (18911954) wrote that Parsons “ holds the mirror up to nature and depicts what appears on the spectrum.” One of the poems in this book is Parsons’ tribute to North River.
His second book, ironically with the same title, appeared in 1958. Raymond Gushue (1900-80) wrote in his Foreword that Parsons had “caught with fine perception and etched in sure lines the character of the outport community on the East Coast of Newfoundland.”
That character, Gushue added, consisted of quiet philosophy, deep religious faith and inherent goodhumoured resourcefulness. One of the poems in this book is a tribute to his brother, Ralph W. Parsons (1881-1956), the last fur trade commissioner of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Village Politicians followed in 1960. Joseph R. Smallwood (1900-91), in his foreword, wrote that Parsons was “one of the best examples I know of the truth of our Newfoundland saying that you can take the boy out of the Bay, but you can’t take the Bay out of the boy.” One of the poems in this book is a tribute to the educator, Dr. Arthur Barnes (1866-1956).
Sea Room was published in 1963. Sir Brian E.S. Dunfield (18801968) wrote that Parsons was serving a useful purpose by seeking “ to crystalize in rhyme” a vision of a way of life that was quickly disappearing. One of the poems in this book is My Little Town, in honour of Bay Roberts: “ Upon the headlands we may fairly view / The harbour and the town … “
In The Rote, released in 1965, Donald C. Jamieson ( 1921-86) commented on Parsons’ “ tender, understanding and truthful” poetry, which was “ wholly worthy of critical acclaim.”
Parsons’ next book, The Village and Wayside, was published in 1967. Alfred C. Hunter (1892-1971) characterized Parsons’ as “always redolent of our Newfoundland home.”
Between 1970 and 1973, Parsons published Interludes, The Tale of a Lonesome House and The Legend of the Isle.
In Salute to Port de Grave, which appeared in 1975, Harry A. Cuff commented that Parsons’ “poetry will earn immortality for him.” In his signature poem, Parsons aimed to “ tell of Port de Grave, an ancient place, / The birth of which the archives have no trace, / For it was old when Guy of Bristol strove / To plant his colony in Cuper’s Cove.
In Contemplations, published in 1977, Jessie B. Mifflin referred to Parsons’ “ homely philosophy” and “sympathetic understanding of human nature and his life of the beauty of the earth.”
Parsons’ final book of poetry, Curtain Call, appeared in 1980. It’s an anthology of 50 of Parsons’ best poems. Harry Cuff wrote that “Dr. Parsons’ imagery is strong, precise and concrete, never crude. His tone is reverent without being maudlin. His satire does not deteriorate to invective. His diction is refined rather than grandiose, while his use of the Newfoundland dialect is astute and never offensive … There is the sense of a unity of theme — the indomitable human spirit portrayed against a Newfoundland background.”
A twentieth-century reading of Richard A. Parsons’ poetry can still reap rich dividends. It effectively links the past with the present while, at the same time, constructing a bridge to the future.