IN Pleasant Grove Cemetery in the small village of Minerva in the county of Carroll in the state of Ohio is a headstone. Carved on it are a name and a couple of lines from a poem:

Yet are we blessed:
We know we climb
From darker ways Behind us."

The lines come from a poem called The Skylark by Ralph Hodgson. Although the poet lies beneath American skies, his beginnings were in the streets and fields of south Durham. Not many in his hometown of Darlington have heard of him or his nature-infused works, although next week his biography will be launched in the Crown Street library.

For Hodgson was the most highly regarded poet of his heyday, which was just before the First World War Siegfried Sassoon, the great war poet, was a very close friend, and John Masefield, the poet laureate, said that The Skylark would endure as long as the greatest works in the English language. He said it "will sing with Shelley's and Hardy's in everlasting sunshine".

TS Eliot liked Hodgson's work so much that he dedicated his famous work, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (which Andrew Lloyd Webber turned into the musical Cats), to "the Man in White Spats" from Darlington.

Eliot even wrote a ditty about Hodgson's magnetic personality and his penchant for keeping caged birds: How delightful to meet Mr Hodgson!

(Everybody wants to know him) Hehas 999 canaries And round his head finches and fairies In jubilant rapture skim.

How delightful to meet Mr Hodgson!

(Everybody wants to know him).

Ralph Hodgson's father's family were farmers from Teesdale - Romaldkirk and Middleton - who came to settle near West Auckland.

His mother's family were fiercesome Methodists from Middridge. His parents married at Eppleby, on the Yorkshire outskirts of Darlington, and his father's first job was working in the coal business of William Stobbart of Etherley.

In fact, Ralph Senior did rather well in the business and set himself up in Darlington in 1865. Soon he had his own coal and lime depot at Bank Top station and even his own fleet of railway trucks. He was nicknamed "Coal" Hodgson, and his family lived in a substantial home in Northgate - No 47 (now BiB insurance brokers) - opposite the Technical College.

It was a rapidly growing family. By the time Ralph Junior came along in 1871 - the eighth of 11 children - the Hodgsons had moved around the corner to 2, Garden Street. This was a bigger house, recently built on top of the late Edward Pease's garden, although nothing now of it remains behind the Army recruiting office.

Ralph Senior had a very inventive mind. The house was full of potions and pestles and mortars as he tried to create a pharmaceutical balm that would relieve toothache, backache, burns, sore throats and spots, and would cure cattle, horses, dogs and cats of their ailments. He marketed it as Hodgson's Cure All Aromatic Balm For The Use of Women.

But Ralph Senior also had an addictive personality.

Drinking was his downfall - taking his family with him.

The business suffered, the depot disappeared, the family downgraded to Station Terrace at Bank Top.

In 1884, aged only 50, Ralph Senior died.

On the weekend of his death his children were staying with relatives on a farm in Eppleby. They returned home to find all evidence of their father - all his pipes and potions - had been removed.

Mother Mary took over.

She censured newspapers and books to make sure they were giving her children the right religious message.

"No matter how busy mother might be, she would stop her work on hearing one of us make a grammatical mistake, or if she detected the slightest sound of a local accent in our voices, " Walker, one of Ralph's older brothers who briefly worked as The Northern Echo's first illustrator in the mid-1880s, says in the new biography.

In the same quote, Walker touched on the subject of last week's Echo Memories.

He said: "Because of the constant shower of smut from the adjacent railway, daily washing and whitening of the doorstep was necessary. No 17 Station Terrace was respectable. . ."

Without their father, the Hodgsons moved to Newcastle for a couple of years, and then to London.

Young Ralph, though, went missing, leaving school at 14, and disappearing into the Durham countryside, even hitching a ride with a travelling fairground - an experience which inspired one of his best poems, The Gipsy Girl.

He also fell in love with fighting dogs.

"I saw an old man with a strange-looking, shortbodied, flat-headed animal on straight, sturdy legs having little dark eyes set close together and a goodnatured expression, running beside him, " he later recalled. "Day after day I looked out for the dog and his old master. At last I determined to ask him what sort of dog it might be. I must have been the most disappointed boy in England after I had stopped him with many apologies and put my question for I got the answer: 'Twenty minutes past four, my lad.' The old man was stone deaf!"

It was a bull mastiff, and Ralph kept them as pets throughout his life.

In his late teens, Ralph moved to London. He became a very successful cartoonist on children's magazines and newspapers.

These were pre-photography days, and it was his drawings that brought great events, such as the trial of Oscar Wilde, to life for readers of the London Evening News.

At the start of the 20th Century, he gave up illustrating and devoted himself to his criticallyacclaimed poetry, writing of his love of nature and his concern about the passing of time, as The Hammers shows.

Following the death of his first wife, he went with his second wife to lecture in Japan. There he, scandalously, met his third wife - an American Christian missionary who was 25 years his junior.

But with Aurelia, he found happiness. They married in 1933 and retired to a remote farmstead in Ohio where nature swallowed him up and time finally caught up with him in 1962.