Distinguished poet and translator who strived for 'true gentleness'

Pearse Hutchinson. Photograph: The Gallery Press

Pearse Hutchinson. Photograph: The Gallery Press

Sat, Jan 21, 2012, 00:00

Pearse Hutchinson:PEARSE HUTCHINSON, who has died aged 84, was a poet and translator whose verse was first published in 1945 and whose final collection appeared in 2008.

Some critics regard his early poems as his best, considering the later work to have diverged more and more into prose. By contrast, The Irish Timesdescribed him as “one of Ireland’s most inventive, instructive, and perennially newsworthy poets”, adding, “[his poems] always embody and, at their best, articulate Hutchinson’s desire for what he once called ‘true gentleness’.”

And his facility for the arresting line – for instance, “Love takes a long and garrulous time to die” – was universally acknowledged.

From 1957 to 1961 he reviewed drama for Raidió Éireann, and in the 1970s presented Oró Domhnaigh, a weekly programme of poetry, music and folklore. He also wrote a weekly column for the RTÉ Guide. He lived for long periods in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, and from 1971 to 1973 was Gregory fellow in poetry at the University of Leeds.

Academic and poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin this week said he was a poet of seriousness and integrity. “His poetry is not preoccupied with the literary, but it explores all the resonances and realities of words and language.”

Broadcaster, poet and dramatist Vincent Woods described him as a “hugely gifted poet and a remarkable, inspirational presence in Irish literature and in life”.

He was born in Glasgow in 1927 to Harry and Cathleen Hutchinson. The family moved to Dublin in 1932 and he was the last pupil to be enrolled in Scoil Éanna. He later attended Synge Street CBS, where he remembered being “a happy swot, with a natural liking for language”.

In 1948 he enrolled at UCD, where he studied Castilian and Italian. His poetic development was further spurred by a holiday in Spain and Portugal in 1950. In 1951 he returned to Spain, intending to settle there. Unable to find work, he travelled to Geneva, where he joined the International Labour Office as a translator.

Returning to Dublin in 1953, he rekindled his interest in the Irish language. He was attracted to the work of Máirtín Ó Direáin and Seán Ó Ríordáin, and found in Kevin Street public library “a wealth of Gaelic poetry”. He devoured everything he could find by Aonghus Fionn Ó Dálaigh, Dáibhí Ó Bruadair and Piaras Feiritéar, who became one of his favourite poets.

He began writing in Irish, finding it less difficult to be direct, simple and natural. His first Irish-language poems to be published appeared in Comhar in 1954. That year he travelled again to Spain, where he learned the Catalan and Galician languages. He returned to Ireland in 1957 but was back in Barcelona in 1961. There his first book, a volume of translations from the Catalan of Josep Carner, was published. His first collection, Tongue Without Hands(1963), followed. By the late 1960s he was making his living in Ireland, from poetry and journalism.

In 1968 a collection of poems, Faoistin Bhacach, was published. Expansions(1969) contains much social and political comment.

Friend Songs(1970) is a collection of medieval love poems translated from Galacio-Portuguese. Two volumes of his own work followed, Watching the Morning Grow(1972) and The Frost Is All Over(1975).His 75th birthday in 2002 was marked by the publication of his Collected Poems, followed a year later by Done into English, a selection of translated works by more than 60 poets.

His most recent collection At Least for a Whilewas published in 2008. He was awarded the Butler Prize in 1969 and an Arts Council bursary in 1978. He was a founding editor of the magazine Cyphersand a member of Aosdána.

His life partner, Alan Biddle, predeceased him in 1994.


William Patrick Henry Pearse Hutchinson: born February 16th, 1927; died January 14th, 2012