Yvor Winters

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Arthur Yvor Winters (17 October 1900 – 25 January 1968) was an American poet and literary critic.


Winters was born in Chicago, Illinois and he grew up in Eagle Rock, California. He attended the University of Chicago where he was a member of a literary circle that included Glenway Wescott, Elizabeth Madox Roberts and his future wife Janet Lewis. He suffered from tuberculosis in his late teens and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. There he recuperated, wrote his early published verse and taught. In 1923 Winters published one of his first critical essays, "Notes on the Mechanics of the Poetic Image," [1][page needed] in the expatriate literary journal Secession. In 1925 he became an undergraduate at the University of Colorado.

In 1926, Winters married the poet and novelist Janet Lewis, also from Chicago and a tuberculosis sufferer. After graduating he taught at the University of Idaho and then started a doctorate at Stanford University. He remained at Stanford, living in Los Altos,[2] until two years before his death from throat cancer. His students included the poets Edgar Bowers, Thom Gunn, Donald Hall, Jim McMichael, N. Scott Momaday, Robert Pinsky, John Matthias, Moore Moran, Roger Dickinson-Brown and Robert Hass, the critic Gerald Graff, and the theater director and writer Herbert Blau. He was also a mentor to Donald Justice, J.V. Cunningham and Bunichi Kagawa.[2][page needed]

He edited the literary magazine Gyroscope with his wife from 1929 to 1931; and Hound & Horn from 1932 to 1934.

He was awarded the 1961 Bollingen Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems.

As modernist[edit]

Winters's early poetry appeared in small avant-garde magazines alongside work by writers like James Joyce and Gertrude Stein and was written in the modernist idiom; it was heavily influenced both by Native American poetry and by Imagism, being described as 'arriving late at the Imagist feast'.[3][page needed] His essay, "The Testament of a Stone," gives an account of his poetics during this early period. Although beginning his career as an admirer and imitator of the Imagist poets, Winters by the end of the 1920s had formulated a neo-classic poetics.[4][page needed] Around 1930, he turned away from modernism and developed an Augustan style of writing, notable for its clarity of statement and its formality of rhyme and rhythm, with most of his poetry thereafter being in the accentual-syllabic form.[3][page needed]

As critic[edit]

Winters's critical style was comparable to that of F. R. Leavis, and in the same way he created a school of students (of mixed loyalty). His affiliations and proposed canon, however, were quite different: Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence above any one novel by Henry James, Robert Bridges above T. S. Eliot, Charles Churchill above Alexander Pope, Fulke Greville and George Gascoigne above Sidney and Spenser. In his view, "a poem in the first place should offer us a new perception . . . bringing into being a new experience."[5][page needed]

He attacked Romanticism, particularly in its American manifestations, and assailed Emerson's reputation as that of a sacred cow.[citation needed] Ironically, his first book of poems, Diadems and Fagots, takes its title from one of Emerson's poems. In this he was probably influenced by Irving Babbitt. Winters was sometimes and questionably associated with the New Criticism, largely because John Crowe Ransom devoted a chapter to him in his book of the same name. He bestowed the sobriquet "the cool master" on the American poet Wallace Stevens.

Winters is best known for his argument attacking the "fallacy of imitative form":

"To say that a poet is justified in employing a disintegrating form in order to express a feeling of disintegration, is merely a sophistical justification for bad poetry, akin to the Whitmanian notion that one must write loose and sprawling poetry to 'express' the loose and sprawling American continent. In fact, all feeling, if one gives oneself (that is, one's form) up to it, is a way of disintegration; poetic form is by definition a means to arrest the disintegration and order the feeling; and in so far as any poetry tends toward the formless, it fails to be expressive of anything."[5][page needed]


  • Diadems and Fagots (1921) poems
  • The Immobile Wind (1921) poems
  • The Magpie's Shadow (1922) poems
  • Secession certain Notes on the Mechanics of the Image (1923) a magazine
  • The Bare Hills (1927) poems
  • The Proof (1930) poems
  • The Journey and Other Poems (1931) poems
  • Before Disaster (1934) poems
  • Primitivism and Decadence: A Study of American Experimental Poetry Arrow Editions, New York, 1937
  • Maule's Curse: Seven Studies in the History of American Obscurantism (1938)
  • Poems (1940)
  • The Giant Weapon (1943) poems
  • The Anatomy of Nonsense (1943)
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson (1946)
  • In Defense of Reason (1947) collects Primitivism, Maule and Anatomy
  • To the Holy Spirit (1947) poems
  • Three Poems (1950)
  • Collected Poems (1952, revised 1960)
  • The Function of Criticism: Problems and Exercises (1957)
  • On Modern Poets: Stevens, Eliot, Ransom, Crane, Hopkins, Frost (1959)
  • The Early Poems of Yvor Winters, 1920–1928 (1966)
  • Forms of Discovery: Critical and Historical Essays on the Forms of the Short Poem in English (1967)
  • Uncollected Essays and Reviews (1976)
  • The Collected Poems of Yvor Winters; with an introduction by Donald Davie (1978)
  • Uncollected Poems 1919–1928 (1997)
  • Uncollected Poems 1929–1957 (1997)
  • Yvor Winters: Selected Poems (2003) edited by Thom Gunn

As editor

  • Twelve Poets of the Pacific (1937)
  • Selected Poems, by Elizabeth Daryush (1948); with a foreword by Winters
  • Poets of the Pacific, Second Series (1949)
  • Quest for Reality: An Anthology of Short Poems in English (1969); with, and with an introduction by, Kenneth Fields

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Introductory Note to Primitivism and Decadence: A Study of American Experimental Poetry Arrow Editions , New York , 1937
  2. ^ a b Los Altos History Museum. The Shoup Centennial 1910–2010. Los Altos History Museum, 2010. Accessed 2011-10-09.
  3. ^ a b Schmidt, Michael, Lives of Poets ,Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1999 ISBN 978-0297840145
  4. ^ Notes to the poems in The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, volume 1, 1909–1939, edited by A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan Carconet Press, Manchester 2000 ISBN 1857545222
  5. ^ a b Primitivism and Decadence: A Study of American Experimental Poetry Arrow Editions , New York , 1937

Further reading[edit]

  • Richard J. Sexton (1973). The Complex of Yvor Winters' Criticism
  • Thomas Francis Parkinson (1978). Hart Crane and Yvor Winters
  • Grosvenor Powell (1980). Language as Being in the Poetry of Yvor Winters
  • Elizabeth Isaacs (1981). An Introduction to the Poetry of Yvor Winters
  • Dick Davis (1983). Wisdom and Wilderness: The Achievement of Yvor Winters
  • Terry Comito (1986). In Defense of Winters
  • Champion, Rafe (2002). "Winters: A Man For All Reasons". 

External links[edit]