Ben Hur Lampman (1886-1954) was Oregon’s second poet laureate, beginning in 1951 until his death three years later. He was a columnist and associate editor at the Oregonian for 35 years, garnering national recognition and affection for his writings, though he remains relatively unknown today.
Lampman was born in Wisconsin and raised in North Dakota. He got an early start in the print business, working in his father’s print shop at age 11 and starting his own Michigan City paper at 19. A year later he married Lena Sheldon and in 1912, the couple moved to Gold Hill, Oregon with their family. There, Lampman began editing the local newspaper, only to be lured to the Oregonian four years later. His work included prose poetry, editorials, short stories, nature pieces, and a novel.
A voracious reader, Lampman was known for writing in the lyrical vernacular of everyday life, capturing the speech and concerns of the people around him, and covering a wide variety of topics, from vittles to pet dogs to the local streetcar. He was also an avid fisherman – he caught his first fish and wrote his first poem around the same time in early childhood – and his writings reveal his dedication to the preservation of the natural world. His first book (1933) was a collection of poetry and prose first serialized in the Oregonian, titled How Could I Be Forgetting? It was followed by the second collection (1942) At the End of the Car Line. He also published widely in school textbooks, Reader’s Digest, Atlantic, The New York Times, Saturday Evening Post, and Nature.
In 1951, the Oregon legislature recognized Lampman for his “sympathetic understanding of the life and work of common man,” and it is this insight in his writings that endeared him to so many readers in his lifetime.
Darkling She Strode to Westward
How Could I Be Forgetting?
In That Still Hour
The Best Place to Bury a Dog
To A Seabird Dying