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.

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