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University of Denver Thomas Hornsby Ferril: A Biographical Sketch Thomas Hornsby Ferril has published five volumes of poetry and two of prose, all significantly concerned with the West. The very title of the second volume of poems, Westering, suggests its geographical and historical concern. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the Ferril family has been “westering” through the various territories identified as “The West” since the Revolutionary War. Since great-great-great grandfather Jonathan Ferril emigrated from Virginia to Kentucky, the Ferril family has moved in successive generations to Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado. Thomas Hornsby Ferril, representing the sixth generation, has been the only one to stay where he was born. Ferril still lives in the house in Denver where the family moved when he was four years old. In his poetry he has evoked a sense of the years spent in this house: The solstice gable of my roof is dialing Noonaway gardens and the flutes are gone. The first leaf slowly flutters summer down, Yet here, anew, causing the light to be, The children are coming slowly up the stairs, The leaded stained-glass window on the landing Shattering rainbows over the bannister. Below, the screen door drowses on its hook, The shady porch is sifting woodbine rustle From scrolls of jig-saw fir some carpenter Had laced together, hours by very fashion, One summer day when horses nodded at Their hitching posts under the cottonwoods.1 R O B E R T F . R I C H A R D S 1“The Children Are Coming Slowly Up the Stairs,” Words For Denver And Other Poems (New York: William Morrow, 1966), p. 54. 206 Western American Literature He has recalled scenes from his boyhood in prose essays: We ran in packs over the “prairie lots” rank with bee-flower, Russian thistle, primroses, pink mallows, and sand lilies. I can still remember a touchdown: it’s minty like pennyroyal. . . . We ran around the block until we dropped dead, cheered on some­ times by some of the elder neighbors, Paul Whiteman who lived on the comer, Bat Nelson . . . Young Corbett who was Steve Rothwell’s big brother over on Ogden Street, Thad Sowder who had just won the world bronco-busting championship at Chey­ enne, and sometimes Tommy Guinan’s beautiful big sister, Texas, home from her vaudeville trips.2 In an article entitled, “Pioneer in the Parlor Car,” Thomas Hornsby Ferril has been pictured as a man of inherited wealth, sheltered by plate glass and privet.3 The Ferril family was, in fact, poor gentility. Will Ferril, Tom’s father, was the kind of intellectual and scholar whom, Bernard DeVoto charged, the West had always treated badly. He was curator of the State Historical Society, not a practical way to make a living. Since the house in which the family lived had been inherited from Mrs. Ferril’s aunt, they were able to live in what was then a respectable neighborhood, and many of Tom’s boyhood friends were from wealthy families. The Ferrils were not impoverished, but they were pressed to maintain that minimum appearance of respectability which the Calvinist code demanded even in a Western town fifty years old. Mrs. Will Ferril made the dresses for her two daughters, and Tom, the youngest child and only son, helped to pay for the cloth. The author of the “Parlor Car” article inferred that Ferril had inherited wealth instead of debts and had maintained his affluence by selling his soul to industry. This led to a further premise that his poetry could not be good. The pattern of underprivilege in his youth has left some mark on Ferril’s personality. His poetry, however, does not suffer from that background: he writes with the confidence that often characterizes those who have been sheltered by “plate glass and privet.” As a child, Tom once heard on a trip to the mountains two college boys play “Moonlight” on their mandolins while the train chugged 2“Westem Half-Acre,” Harper’s, 193 (1946), 158-59. 3Joseph J. Firebaugh, “Pioneer in the Parlor Car,” Prairie Schooner, 21 (1947), 69-78. Robert F. Richards 207 through the Alpine tunnel. He was so impressed that he watered lawns...


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