The bard of New Per­li­can

Re­tired iron­worker has soft spot for po­etry


All Bill Matthews of New Per­li­can needs to hear are the first few lines of a poem, and chances are he can re­cite the rest. At least, he’ll take a good stab at it. Po­etry has been in his blood ever since he was a child.

“I spent my time climb­ing steel in North Amer­ica,” the 58-year-old re­tired jour­ney­man iron­worker toldThe Com­pass­re­cently.

How­ever, the harsh­ness of the steel he worked with is tem­pered by his pas­sion for po­etry.

“I re­ally en­joy some po­ems,” he said.

He traces the ge­n­e­sis of his love for po­etry to his years in grade school in his home­town.

“ We had to do quite a bit of mem­o­riz­ing,” he ex­plained.

Now, quite a few po­ems pop up as a mat­ter of course, “and then I con­nect other things to them,” he said.

Two of his best-loved po­ems concern his life’s work.

“Black­smithing was big in my mind,” he ad­mit­ted.

Henry Wadsworth Longfel­low’s “ The Vil­lage Black­smith” res­onates with him, “Un­der a spread­ing chest­nut tree / The vil­lage smithy stands ...”

Charles Mackay’s “ Tubal Cain” tells the story of a “man of might / In the days when the Earth was young; / By the fierce red light of his fur­nace bright / The strokes of his ham­mer rung ...”

Charles E. Car­ryl’s “Robin­son Cru­soe’s Story” holds pride of place in Matthews’ reper­toire, “ The night was thick and hazy / When thePic­cadilly Daisy/ Car­ried down the crew and cap­tain in the sea ...”

“I think it was the hu­mourous part that made me re­mem­ber this one,” he said.

There are other com­po­si­tions, in­clud­ing “I must go down to the sea,” by John Mase­field, and “ The Tree” by Ezra Pound, the lat­ter hold­ing spe­cial mean­ing for Matthews.

“It’s a great form of ex­pres­sion,” he said.

He stud­ied lit­tle “New­found­land con­tent in grade school,” he said.

Matthews has writ­ten a few po­ems through the years, but those are still in his head.

“I love read­ing the stuff, but my weak­ness is get­ting it on pa­per,” he said with a chuckle.

To Matthews, read­ing — whether po­etry or prose — is a ver­i­ta­ble bless­ing.

“Any­one who’s miss­ing out on read­ing is miss­ing out an aw­ful lot,” he said.

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