Witter Bynner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Harold Witter Bynner, also known by the pen name Emanuel Morgan (August 10, 1881 – June 1, 1968) was an American poet, writer and scholar, known for his long residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and association with other literary figures there.

Early life[edit]

Bynner was born in Brooklyn, New York, and brought up in Brookline, Massachusetts. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University in 1902. While at Harvard, he was invited to join the student literary magazine, The Advocate, by Wallace Stevens.[1] He was published in another of Harvard's literary journals, The Harvard Monthly. His first book of poems, An Ode to Harvard, came out in 1907, and he was invited to be a Harvard Phi Beta Kappa poet.[2]

Initially he pursued a career in journalism, and edited McClure's Magazine for four years.[3] He then turned to writing, living in Cornish, New Hampshire, until about 1915.

In 1916 he was one of the perpetrators, with Arthur Davison Ficke, a friend from Harvard, of an elaborate literary hoax. It involved a purported 'Spectrist' school of poets, along the lines of the Imagists, based in Pittsburgh. Spectra, a slim collection, was published under the pseudonyms of Anne Knish (Ficke) and Emanuel Morgan (Bynner). Marjorie Allen Seiffert, writing as Elijah Hay, was also part of the "movement".[4]

Bynner traveled to Japan, Korea and China in 1917.[5]

In New York, Bynner was a member of The Players club, the Harvard Club, and the Mac Dowell Club. In San Francisco, he joined the Bohemian Club.[3] He was president of the Poetry Society of America from 1921 to 1923.[2]

Bynner had a short spell in academia in 1918–1919 at the University of California, Berkeley. He was hired to teach Oral English to the Students' Army Training Corps as a form of conscientious objector alternative service, and was invited to stay on in the English department after World War I ended. There, he composed Canticle of Praise and taught classes in poetry and verse writing.[3] He also met professor of Chinese Kiang Kang-hu, with whom he later collaborated. He was forced to leave Berkeley after serving alcohol to freshmen during Prohibition.[6]

Bynner traveled to China in 1920, meeting sculptor Beniamino Bufano en route, and studied Chinese literature.[6] He subsequently produced many translations from Chinese. His verse, which had initially showed the influence of poets such as A. E. Housman,[1] began to evince both Japanese and Chinese influences, primarily the latter. Bynner became more of a modernist in consequence, where previously he had been inclined to parody Imagism, and dismiss the orientalist pronouncements with which Ezra Pound was free.

In 1922 he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he and his partner, Robert Hunt, entertained artists and literary figures such as D. H. Lawrence, Georgia O'Keeffe, Carl Sandburg, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Igor Stravinsky, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Carl Van Vechten, Martha Graham, and Thornton Wilder.

On January 18, 1965, Bynner had a severe stroke. He never recovered, and required constant care until he died on June 1, 1968.


Bynner's home in Santa Fe is now a bed and breakfast called the Inn of the Turquoise Bear.

In 1972, the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry was founded through a bequest from Bynner. It makes grants to perpetuate the art of poetry, primarily by supporting individual poets, translations, and audience development. Since 1997, it has funded the Witter Bynner Fellowship, the recipient of which is selected by the U.S. Poet Laureate.

A Witter Bynner Poetry Prize was established by the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1980 to support young poets. It was discontinued in 2003.


  • Young Harvard and Other Poems (1907)
  • Tiger (1913)
  • The New World (1915)
  • The Beloved Stranger (1919)
  • A Canticle of Pan and Other Poems (1920)
  • Pins for Wings (1920)
  • A Book of Love (1923)
  • Caravan (1925)
  • Indian Earth (1929)
  • The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, Being Three Hundred Poems of the T’ang Dynasty 618–906 (1929) (translation from Chinese in collaboration with Kiang Kang-Hu)
  • Selected Poems (1936)
  • The Way of Life According to Laotzu (1944)
  • Take Away the Darkness (1947)
  • Tao Te Ching—The Way of Life According to Laotse (1949) (translation from Chinese)
  • Journey With Genius: Reflections and Reminiscences Concerning the D. H. Lawrences (1951)
  • New Poems 1960 (1960)
  • Light Verse and Satires (1978)
  • Prose Pieces (1979)
  • Selected Letters (1981)



  1. ^ a b "Witter Bynner" Poetry Foundation website.
  2. ^ a b "Witter Bynner," Harvard Square Library
  3. ^ a b c Herringshaw, Thomas William. American Elite and Sociologist Bluebook, p. 387. American Blue Book Publishers, 1922.
  4. ^ Smith, William Jay (1961). The Spectra Hoax. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
  5. ^ Bynner, Witter (1981). Selected Letters. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
  6. ^ a b University of California web site, Hidden History of the Berkeley Campus project page. Accessed November 1, 2013.

Longer texts[edit]

  • Lindsay, Robert (1967). Witter Bynner: a Bibliography. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Bynner,Witter (1981). Selected Letters. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
  • Kraft, James (1995). Who Is Witter Bynner? Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Kline, Lynn (2007). Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies, 1917–1950. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.[1]

Primary sources[edit]

There are Witter Bynner Papers at New Mexico State University, University of California, Berkeley, University of New Hampshire, Harvard,Augustana College, and elsewhere.