A voice for New England and Santa Fe
Poet Winfield Townley Scott
POET WINFIELD TOWNLEY SCOTT
ORE THAN 200 PEOPLE ATTENDED POET WINFIELD TOWNLEY SCOTT’S FUNERAL ON APRIL 30, 1968. It was standing room only at Santa Fe’s First Presby terian Church. Among the mourners were literati, but also people who valued him as a mentor, a kindly neighbor, and a respected member of the town’s social circuit. Robert Kurth, an English and humanities teacher at Santa Fe Preparatory School, read several of Scott’s poems, including “I Held a Hummingbird in My Hand,” one of the poet’s later works: I held a hummingbird in my hand Wing-wounded — worse — but living still. Smallest, intensest, least touchable of birds, That had swooped and climbed all summer To stand midair confronting hollyhocks Piercing and backing with a speed of grace Honoring the garden. Quiet with coming death, So gentled, so trustful with it, so stilled, Which he could not know even here in my hand. His colors burned: gold-green iridescence On the back, under-feathers Indian brown, The orange throat-band dimmed to dried blood Then pulsed and flamed again. Nothing to do. As I held him it seemed the needle beak Horned him — miniature, jeweled unicorn, Winged — true Pegasus — honoring my hand.
The poet’s granddaughter Wendy Scott will read the poem again at Collected Works Bookstore on Sunday, April 24.
Scott was born April 30, 1910. For the first 10 years of his life, he lived in Newport, Rhode Island, with his parents, Douglas Winfield Scott and Bessie Townley Scott, and his sister, Jeannette. Their home was in a sober middle- class neighborhood not far from the ostentatious summer mansions of America’s richest industrialists.
His parents were not literary, but Scott knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer. As a teenager in Haverhill, Massachusetts, he was editor of his highschool paper and was already aware that he wanted to be a poet. His maternal grandfather scrimped to put money aside — a little each week — that allowed Scott to attend Brown University. He studied English literature and graduated with honors. He landed a job at the Providence Journal and set out to become a poet.
His subjects were often New Englanders and their land: beaches, woods, green farms, and small towns. “Summer Afternoon” is one of his many love poems to New England:
Kingdoms in fern guessed, caves beneath moss Secret but certain; underground den assured Though lost till tomorrow — all hid in the forest Immensely ceilinged and mysteriously floored.
The deep path into the beechwood thronged With the shy intimate sounds of friendly things, The unseen furred upon the stealthy feet In dry bracken, the sudden kick of wings,
The shift of a snake gone into leaves, and in The held hush, farther, the quick plop Of a wakened frog, and treed above stillness high And reiterant the bird’s cry that could not stop.
Pattern of nervous silence flicked the grass Splotched with the leafed light where the sky showed Tall, dim — the boy watched it weave Sleep on the moveless turtle, on the tranced weary toad.
At the Providence Journal, he edited the literary pages, a job he would hold for 20 years. He also wrote book reviews for other publications and worked as a radio announcer. He was a prolific poet, and his work began to be noticed.