By CHRISTINE PALM
January 3 2007
Hugh Ogden always signed his e-mails, "Warmly, Hugh," dispatching in an instant the coldness from that impersonal form of communication and, with his poet's ear, turning it into a message of love.
He accomplished this strange alchemy in much that he did: drawing art from the most reluctant student, making beautiful poems on subjects ranging from a girl's severed fingers to a fir tree, bringing comfort in the face of bad news. When I was diagnosed with cancer last spring, he wrote to me, saying simply, "I will hold you in the light, send you healing energy. Much care, faith and love." Perfect words perfectly timed.
If only we who were privileged to have had him as a colleague, teacher and friend, could do the same for him now. Hugh, 69, drowned Sunday in Maine's Rangeley Lake. He fell through thin ice while cross-country skiing to the mainland from his cherished island home.
"All day I've been holding onto the fact that in the end at least he knew someone had come for him - and to the foolish hope that he was not cold," wrote Pam Nomura, Hugh's former student and colleague at Trinity College, where he was an English professor. Instinctively, she got it right; Hugh was all about warmth.
Had his death by drowning, on the eve of the new year, not been so awful, so very unexpected, there might be comfort in the thought that Hugh would have appreciated the irony. His beloved lake, which was the source of so much of his poetry and had his heart, claimed him, fully, at last. Like several other poets - Percy Shelley and Paul Celan come to mind - he was lost in the water, that most primeval and hungry of places.