As we celebrate during April the art of poetry, a local contemporary Union County poet deserves the limelight.
She is Barbara Ruth Nicholson (Collins) Sampson who lives on Nottely Shores. She merits accolades for her excellent poetry. In 2004 she was named National Senior Poet Laureate. She could have submitted most any of her poems to vie for this coveted title. The poem that won the title for her was “Return in the Spring.” She is equally at home in traditional forms and free verse. This poem is of the latter style. Here are her lines:
Spring in the mountains,
but you are not here.
Yet, somehow, my eager eyes discern you
faintly profiled against darkening clouds,
hear your voice echoing in sky-shattering thunder
above the splintered silver waterfalls,
feel you in the profound absence of footsteps
along the leaf-padded trail bordering
the lavishly blossoming rhododendron thicket.
I sense you in the profound grandeur
of this unpeopled wildness,
relax with utter satisfaction in this spot
exclusive to lichen on boulders,
protective moss on northside of trees,
and the drama of an eagle launching himself
into vastness of sky above rugged mountains.
You are here in this eden
that prohibits raucous, man-made noises
within its sacred solitude,
and comes your voice to my depth of yearning
a luminescence of all past glory.
The cadence of your robust laughter,
profound and sincere, makes me smile,
my heart to sing.
So good there is nothing to intrude,
here in the mountains of spring,
Who is this wordsmith, this maker of verse? Would you believe she has already celebrated her four-score and tenth birthday? Spending most of her time now in a wheelchair, she is not bound by its physical limitations but allows her mind to soar, to grasp ideas that challenge and cajole, words that send imagination on flights of beauty to climb to heights of solitude, where there is “nothing to intrude” save for the very pleasure of writing.
This retired educator—high school English teacher for many years---is herself a daughter of educators: Dr. James M. Nicholson was her father, inimitable principal of Union County High School from about 1930 until his retirement in the mid-1940’s. Her mother was Flora Maynard Nicholson, also an English teacher. She grew up with siblings James Frank, George Truett and Flora Nelle. Her sister, called Nelle, is also a word-crafter and a poet. Barbara Ruth proudly traces her ancestry back to her great, great grandfather John Nicholson, a Revolutionary War soldier whose grave is in the Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Union County.
Barbara Ruth Sampson and I have been pen pals for many years. Her letters are literary gems, delightful to read and saved among my treasures. It was my distinct pleasure, as a fellow member with her of the Georgia Poetry Society, to review her book of poems published in 2000 by Sparrowgrass Press, Sistersville, West Virginia. The Society meeting in Athens, Georgia in April, 2001 was the scene for my oral review of her book entitled “Earth Is a Splendid Place”. I was delighted that Mrs. Sampson was able to attend the review, thanks to her daughter Sylvia Sampson-Haney who took her. In all the years I reviewed books of poetry for Society members, Mrs. Sampson by far showed the most appreciation. Here was a poet not only proficient with words but one with a deeply ingrained sense of gratitude.
She and Union County poet, Byron Herbert Reece, were friends. He inscribed on his book, “Three Lyric Poets,” published in 1942 by Decker Press, Prairie City, IL: “To Ruth, With admiration and affection.” I noted in her poetry a similarity to Reece’s in her adroit use of traditional forms, her appreciation of nature, her ease in using poetic devices of metaphor, simile and personification. Maybe “something there is in the hills” that draws poetic expression from those with skills of observation and introspection such as she and Reece display.
Like Reece, she is adept at the quatrain. Her “On Planting a Crocus Bulb” states a tremendous amount of truth in four lines: “I planted a crocus bulb today/under the leaves, under the clay;/ I planted a bit of purple hope/in a chilly wind, on a barren slope.”
In “Mortality” she feels and touches the splendor of earth and leads the reader to explore our own time and space in the world. The questions posed in the poem lead the reader to contemplate answers:
Why has pulsing spring so early come to earth
in this the growing winter of my days;
what primal instinct stirs less certain steps
to seek among more rough and youthful ways?
Now surely should I pull the fleecy shawl
around the shivering bones of age,
nor face the freshened breeze that challenges
beyond the spirit now grown pale and sage.
What is this pang within my very core
that makes me laugh yet wish to cry,
envisioning all that will come more
when empty of the world am I?
In reading her book, “Earth Is a Splendid Place”, one identifies with her love for natural beauty and her zest for life. Though age, an expected part of life, rolls upon us with the passing years, she encourages our welcoming the seasons as friends and the accrual of years as a blessing. During this month for poetry and poets, her poetic philosopy is well-expressed in another quatrain that gives her book its title:
High the sky to the edge of heaven,
bright the sun as a smiling face;
life is a treasured blessing given,
and earth is a splendid place.”
Congratulations, Mrs. Sampson, for your well-earned title of 2004 Senior Poet Laureate! Your stamina and wisdom are admirable; your love for and expression of words in poetry are exemplary. You make us think while giving us beauty.
c2005 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 14, 2005 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.