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About Andrew Young

Andrew Young (1885-1971) was a Scottish poet and clergyman celebrated for his terse, metaphysical nature poetry and for his prose-studies of British wild flowers.

Beginnings and Religious Life

Andrew Young was born in Elgin, Moray, where his father was stationmaster, but moved to Edinburgh while still an infant. He was educated at James Gillespie’s School, the Royal High School, and Edinburgh University where he read Moral Philosophy (1903-07). Young subsequently intended to study for the Bar but a spiritual crisis provoked by the mysterious disappearance of his brother David in 1907 led him instead to train for the ministry of the United Free Church of Scotland at New College, Edinburgh. Upon completing his studies, he became an assistant at Wallace Green Church in Berwick upon Tweed then minister at Temple in Midlothian (1914-19). During the First World War, Young served as a superintendent at an army rest-camp near Boulogne. Shortly after the Armistice, he became minister at the Presbyterian Church in Hove, East Sussex. In 1939, Young converted to Anglicanism and in 1941 became Vicar of the rural parish of Stonegate, East Sussex. On his retirement in 1959, he moved to Yapton, where he had a living as canon of the nearby Chichester Cathedral.

Young the Poet

Young began writing poetry in early youth, and his first volume Songs of Night, heavily influenced by Swinburne and the Decadents, was published by his father in 1910. Between 1920 and 1931, seven further slim volumes of verse were published by his bookseller friend J. G. Wilson. Signed ‘A. J. Young’, these consisted primarily of short lyrics which reflected the influence of the Georgian Poets (among whom Young had many friends, including John Freeman), and revealed a mystical belief in the sanctity of nature. They also contained longer religious dialogues such as Boaz and Ruth (1920) and the verse-play Rizpah (1923). It was only in the 1930s that Young found his true poetic voice. The critically acclaimed collection Winter Harvest (1933) introduced a new concise style, influenced by the Metaphysical poets Thomas Traherne and Henry Vaughan, and enriched by Young’s studies in botany. Young renounced his earlier volumes, and to emphasize the break, began publishing as ‘Andrew’ rather than ‘A. J.’ Young. His reputation was further enhanced by the collections The White Blackbird (1935), Speak to the Earth (1939), The Green Man (1947), and Collected Poems (1935 and 1950; both containing reworkings of some of his earlier poems in his mature style). Young also continued to experiment with longer forms, producing the main statements of his religious belief in the verse play Nicodemus (1937) and the blank-verse narratives Into Hades (1952) and A Traveller in Time (1958).

Young the Nature-Writer

A renowned amateur botanist, Young also published two highly-praised prose-studies of rare British wild flowers A Prospect of Flowers (1945) and A Retrospect of Flowers (1950). His love and knowledge of British flora and landscapes were also reflected in A Prospect of Britain (1956), The Poet and the Landscape (1962), and the prose poems of The New Poly-Olbion (1967) (which includes an autobiographical introductory essay).

Public Recognition

The Royal Society of Literature awarded Young the Benson Medal in 1939 and conferred an honorary fellowship upon him in 1951. Also in 1951, Young received an honorary LLD from the University of Edinburgh and, the following year, won the Queen's Medal for Poetry. Young was also the subject of two BBC broadcast talks by his friend John Arlott in 1946 and 1947. On Arlott's recommendation, the BBC also broadcast his morning service in Stonegate Church on Christmas Day 1946. In the 1950s and 1960s, Young's works was tirelessly promoted by his friend and eventual literary executor Leonard Clark who edited the Festschrift Andrew Young: Prospect of a Poet (1957), published selections from Young's works (1959, 1967), and prepared a new Collected Poems (1960) which included some of Young's rejected early work. In 1985 the poet's daughter Alison Young and son-in-low Edward Lowbury oversaw centenary editions of Young's Poetical Works and A Prospect of Flowers, which inspired a tribute programme on Television South (TVS). Young and Lowbury subsequently published To Shirk No Idleness (1997), an authoritative biography of the poet. Young's poems have been translated into Catalan, Croatian, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Esperanto.

Further Reading

Leonard Clark (ed.), Andrew Young: Prospect of a Poet; Essays and Tributes by Fourteen Writers (London : Hart-Davis, 1957)

Edward Lowbury and Alison Scott, To Shirk No Idleness: A Critical Biography of the Poet Andrew Young (Salzburg: University of Salzburg, 1997)

Andrew Young, The New Poly-Olbion: Topographical Excursions; With an Introductory Account of the Poet's Early Days (London: Hart-Davis, 1967)

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