William Soutar Explains It All.

posted in: Art, Word Nerd, Work 5
Soutar. Image: Screenshot from BBC4 documentary.
Soutar. Image: Screenshot from BBC4 documentary.


Tonight, some words that give me great joy.

William Soutar is one of my favorite poets. I love him so much I wrote a poem about him once. (It’s not good enough to share, yet; maybe someday.) Soutar, who was born in Scotland in 1898, suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, a crippling form of chronic, inflammatory arthritis, and was bedridden for well over a decade as a result. But by all accounts — even in his sickbed he seemed to know everyone who was anyone in those days so there are many accounts  — he was beguiling, charming, warm, and obviously an insanely gifted writer.

When Soutar was diagnosed, he didn’t freak out. When he realized that he would no longer be able to play football, or garden, or travel much at all, he said to himself, “Now I can be a poet.”

Who does that?

I also love Soutar because he was a dedicated journal keeper. Me too, Billy; me too. And leafing through a journal from 2013 the other day — I was looking for a picture that I still haven’t found — I came across a passage from Soutar’s journal that I had copied into mine. It’s about why a person should keep a journal.

Or a blog.

“If you ask me why I deem it worthwhile to fill up a page such as this, day by day — shall I not reply, ‘Worthwhileness hasn’t very much to do with it’? The most natural reply might be, ‘Because I cannot go out and chop a basket of firewood or take the weeds out of the garden path.’ 

Yet that wouldn’t be a wholly honest answer. We are all sustained at times by the thought that whatever we may be we are certainly a solitary manifestation of creation; not a single other creature in all the history of the world has been just as ourself — not another will be like us. 

Why not put on record something of the world as seen by this lonely ‘ego’: here and there perhaps a sentence may be born whose father is reality.”

Thanks, William. It’s good to know you think about this stuff, too.