Timothy Iver Murphy, a celebrated poet who wrote of hunting pheasants and doves in the Dakotas with his beloved dogs, died Saturday, June 30, in his Fargo home.
He was 67.
Born in Hibbing, Minnesota, Murphy grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota, attended Yale University where he began to build his reputation as a poet under the tutoring of Robert Penn Warren.
He worked for years with his father in the insurance and estate planning business and also in managing large Dakotas farm operations.
His passion was his poetry, much of it about his black Labrador retrievers and hunting birds in North Dakota and South Dakota.
He was published in Gray’s Sporting Journal, Hudson Review and New Criterion and authored several books, including “Set the Ploughshare Deep,” “Very Far North,” , “Mortal Stakes and Faint Thunder,” and “Hunter’s Log.”
His poetry rhymes and has regular meter and appeals to regular people more, perhaps, than it does to academics. But he was known for his poetry in worldly places; as he told a friend, he was better known in Edinburgh, Scotland, than in Edinburg, North Dakota.
Murphy was familiar with Pierre from his years of pheasant hunting in the area and in 2012 he held a reading in Prairie Pages Bookseller on Pierre Street downtown.
Murphy returned later in life to the Roman Catholic faith of his childhood and told of being miraculously saved from suicide.
Murphy often referred to his faith in his poetry and to his previous battles with the bottle.
In 2012, Lance Nixon of the Capital Journal wrote about Murphy’s talk in Pierre.
“Murphy told us this great yarn about Robert Penn Warren offering instruction over glasses of whiskey – glass for the teacher, glass for the pupil – while he critiqued Murphy’s poems.
‘He said, ‘These are good, boy. My only complaint is that the first line has to grab you by the throat and say ‘Poetry’ the way this glass grabs you by the throat and says, ‘Jack Daniel’s.’’
Well, some of Murphy’s lines do that, but not always the first lines.
There’s a poem called “Missouri Breaks” that ends by speaking of ‘a landscape and a sky / legible as a Bible for the blind.’
What’s better than that for describing the tactile sense of the broken country along the river? It distills the country down to one line that bites and lingers on the tongue. And maybe that’s what Plains poets are good for.”
Clay Jenkinson of the Dakota Institute Press in Washburn, North Dakota, published Murphy’s poetry and hunted with him.
Murphy was not like most poets, Jenkinson wrote in the forward to one of Murphy’s books.
“He’s owned large acreages and made and lost fortunes in farming and served as a director for a hog confinement factory . . . He’s a political conservative. He doesn’t wear his politics on his sleeve, but he’s not a literary department poetical Marxist, that’s for sure . . . He’s one of us. He writes about farming, hunting, the land and the sky, dogs, cattle, shotgun shells, and his recipe for pheasant stew. His poetry is not impossibly abstract or elusive. In fact, it is disarmingly accessible, which may make some think it is less sophisticated and accomplished than it is. . .He likes the idea that his books might appear in Scheels or Cabela’s stores. “
His survivors include his mother, Katherine Bye Murphy of Fargo and five siblings.
Visitation will be 5 to 7 p.m., Monday, July 2, in Wright Funeral Home, 605 2nd Ave. S. Moorhead, Minnesota.
His funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 3, in Saints Anne and Joachim Catholic Church, 5202 25th St. S., Fargo.
“To John Murphy”
The flushing rooster is a thrill
Greater than any kill
In which we’ve taken part or ever will
Until the hunting boots of God
Tamp us under the sod
And all the pheasants that we’ve missed applaud.
Wagging their tails, our dogs will tell
The other Labs in hell,
“They killed in order to have hunted well.”
Murphy lived much of his life in North Dakota but knew South Dakota well, and hunted the Herseth’s fabled pheasant lands, he said.
He wrote of a time in one Pierre establishment.
For William Huber:
“I reach Oahe via the Grey Goose Road,
crossing the dammed Missouri headed west,
a lawsuit weighing on me like a load
carried too long, from which I long to rest.
An eagle swooping down the gullied slopes
races the Bronco as though Rosebud bound.
There the fulfillment of my partners’ hopes
depends upon one hunting friend I've found.
A Rosebud Sioux topping three hundred pounds
and six feet five, Bill fills the barroom door.
One chamber clear, his cannon holds five rounds—
Colonel Sam Colt’s persuasive .44.
Showing it off, he tells me with a smirk,
“Always go armed. Fighting is too much work.”
(Mad Mary’s Saloon, Pierre, S.D.)
Of Little Heart Butte south of Bismarck, not far from South Dakota:
“Grouse peck at its breast
And pheasants at its foot.
Buffalo berries west
And Russian olives east
Girdle this shortgrass butte,
This table set for a feast.
I, the unbidden guest,
Have little heart to shoot.
Out here we still pray at our forebears’ graves,
And quilting is esteemed among the arts.
The handshake is a contract in these parts,
And most of us believe that Jesus saves.