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Bryant, William Cullen (03 November 1794–12 June 1878), poet and journalist, was born in Cummington, Massachusetts, the son of Peter Bryant, a physician, and Sarah Snell, daughter of one of the first settlers. Young Cullen, as he was called, was a precocious child of poor health and nervous temperament. His mother taught him the alphabet at sixteen months. At twelve he was tutored in Latin by an uncle, Rev. Thomas Snell, and in Greek by Rev. Moses Halleck. His father, himself well versed in the classics as well as British poetry, shared his sizable personal library with his son and encouraged him to write poetry. Bryant’s mother kept a diary of observations on local events. Thus, the environment of his boyhood was not only conducive to an appreciation of culture and the disciplined development of his literary skills, but also to the nurture of spiritual and moral qualities. In particular, Bryant retained through his life vivid memories of long hours spent at the Congregational church, with its biblical orientation and rigorous Calvinism....

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De Casseres, Benjamin (1873–06 December 1945), author and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of David De Casseres, a printer, and Charlotte Davis. On his father’s side he was a collateral descendant of Spinoza. De Casseres left high school at thirteen and went to work as a four-dollar-a-week office boy for ...

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Eckman, Frederick (27 October 1924–28 October 1996), poet, editor, scholar, and teacher, was born Frederick Willis Eckman in Continental, Ohio, the son of Hector B. Eckman, a mechanic, and Helen E. Osborn Eckman. Fred Eckman grew up in the environs of small-town, rural Ohio and attended public schools. His affinity for language and the dramatic emerged early. He read voraciously, and schoolmates recall impromptu dramatic productions in barns and garages. During World War II, he served as a surgical technician in the U.S. Army and enrolled in premedical courses at the University of Florida. Following his discharge in 1946, Eckman enrolled at Ohio State University, majoring in English. He married Mary Louise Drummer Campbell in March of 1947; a son, Thomas Frederick Eckman, was born the following October....

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Eliot, T. S. (26 September 1888–04 January 1965), poet, critic, and editor, was born Thomas Stearns Eliot in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Henry Ware Eliot, president of the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, and Charlotte Champe Stearns, a former teacher, an energetic social work volunteer at the Humanity Club of St. Louis, and an amateur poet with a taste for ...

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Gilder, Richard Watson (08 February 1844–18 November 1909), editor and writer, was born in Bordentown, New Jersey, the son of the Reverend William Henry Gilder, a Methodist minister and headmaster of a “Female Seminary,” and Jane Nutt. Most of Gilder’s early education took place in another school for girls run by his family in Flushing, New York, but all the evidence suggests a normal and happy boyhood, which included precocious interests in things literary. When only twelve, he frequented the offices of the Flushing ...

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Giovannitti, Arturo Massimo (07 January 1884–31 December 1959), poet, journalist, and labor leader, was born in Ripabottoni (Molise), Italy, the son of Domenico Giovannitti, a physician and pharmacist, and Adelaide Levante. Raised in a family of middle-class professionals in southern Italy, Arturo Giovannitti was educated at the Collegio Mario Pagano in Campobasso, the regional capital, where he first demonstrated his literary ability by winning a national contest for poetry. Rather than attend university in Italy, Giovannitti decided to “visit the world,” immigrating to Canada by himself at age sixteen or seventeen. Little is known about Giovannitti’s activities in Canada before he enrolled in a theological seminary affiliated with McGill University in Montreal and became a pastor’s assistant at a Presbyterian mission for Italians. His early attraction to Protestantism has never been adequately explained....

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Guest, Edgar Albert (20 August 1881–05 August 1959), journalist and poet, was born in Birmingham, England, the son of Edwin Guest, a copper broker, and Julia Wayne. When his copper brokerage failed, Guest’s father moved to the United States, obtained a job as a brewery accountant in Detroit, Michigan, and sent for his family to join him in 1891. He lost his position in the panic of 1893, and young Guest worked at odd jobs after school to help out. In 1895 he began an association with the ...

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Hoffman, Charles Fenno (07 February 1806–07 June 1884), writer and editor, was born in New York City, the son of Josiah Ogden Hoffman, a prominent judge, and his second wife, Maria Fenno. At the age of eleven, Hoffman was seriously injured in an accident along the New York docks, resulting in the amputation of his right leg above the knee. In spite of the accident, he was an avid athlete and outdoorsman. In 1821 he entered Columbia College, where he was active in student life but never rose above the bottom fifth of his class. He left Columbia after two years, and in 1823 he began to study law in the Albany office of Harmanus Bleeker. Admitted to the bar in 1827, he returned to New York and began to practice law. Soon after, he began contributing essays, reviews, and poems to the ...

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Mathews, Cornelius (28 October 1817?–25 March 1889), author and editor, was born in Port Chester, New York, the son of Abijah Mathews, a cabinetmaker, and Catherine Van Cott. Little is known about Mathews’s childhood. No diaries, letters, or articles exist before the mid-1830s. However, according to Trows New York Directory, his family moved from Westchester County to Manhattan, and Mathews resided for the rest of his life in various locations in lower Manhattan. He attended Columbia University from 1830 to 1832. In 1833 he transferred to the College of the City of New York, now known as New York University. The Reverend James Mathews, a relative of the family, was the chancellor of the newly established college. Cornelius Mathews received his A.B. degree in the first graduating class of 1834, and, at the commencement ceremony held at the Middle Dutch Church of New York, he gave a speech titled “Females of the American Revolution.” Mathews was admitted to the bar in 1837 and practiced law for a short time. He became the first president of the university’s alumni association in 1846. For a Eucleian Society meeting he presented his speech “Americanism—What Is It?” (1845), later published in the ...

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McKay, Claude (15 September 1890–22 May 1948), poet, novelist, and journalist, was born Festus Claudius McKay in Sunny Ville, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, the son of Thomas Francis McKay and Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards, farmers. The youngest of eleven children, McKay was sent at an early age to live with his oldest brother, a schoolteacher, so that he could be given the best education available. An avid reader, McKay began to write poetry at the age of ten. In 1906 he decided to enter a trade school, but when the school was destroyed by an earthquake he became apprenticed to a carriage and cabinetmaker; a brief period in the constabulary followed. In 1907 McKay came to the attention of Walter Jekyll, an English gentleman residing in Jamaica who became his mentor, encouraging him to write dialect verse. Jekyll later set some of McKay’s verse to music. By the time he immigrated to the United States in 1912, McKay had established himself as a poet, publishing two volumes of dialect verse, ...

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Morley, Christopher Darlington (05 May 1890–28 March 1957), man of letters and editor, was born in Haverford, Pennsylvania, the son of Frank Morley, a mathematics professor at Haverford College, and Lilian Janet Bird, a musician and poet. She taught him to read, and he soon became a voracious reader. The family moved in 1900 to Baltimore, Maryland, where Morley’s father taught at Johns Hopkins University and Morley attended school and frequented the Enoch Pratt Library. He enrolled at Haverford College in 1906, published in the school’s ...

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Poe, Edgar Allan (19 January 1809–07 October 1849), fiction writer, poet, and critic, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the second son of David Poe, Jr., and Elizabeth Arnold, actors. During an engagement in New York, David Poe deserted his family. Within two years, Eliza gave birth to a daughter—by another man, it was rumored—and fell seriously ill, perhaps from an infectious fever. Likely with her children present, she died in Richmond, Virginia, on 8 December 1811, at the age of twenty-four....

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Sandburg, Carl (06 January 1878–22 July 1967), poet, writer, and folk musician, was born Carl August Sandburg in Galesburg, Illinois, the son of August Sandburg, a railroad blacksmith’s helper, and Clara Mathilda Anderson. His parents were hardworking Swedish immigrants who had met when August Sandburg was working on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad in Galesburg and Clara Mathilda Anderson, who had traveled on her own to the new world, was employed as a hotel maid in Bushnell, Illinois. The frugal couple instilled in their seven children the necessity of hard work and education, as well as a reverence for the American dream. When Carl Sandburg entered first grade, he Americanized his Swedish name, thereafter signing his school papers and his early work as a poet, orator, and journalist “Charles A. Sandburg.”...

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Whiting, Lilian (03 October 1847–30 April 1942), journalist, essayist, and poet, was born Emily Lilian Whiting in Olcott, New York, the daughter of Lorenzo Dow Whiting, an educator and politician, and Lucretia Calista Clement, an educator. Her childhood was spent on a farm near Tiskilwa, Illinois. Both her parents were school principals in the area. Later, her father edited a local paper and served as representative and senator in the Illinois State legislature. Whiting was educated by her parents and tutors. “I do not remember learning to read,” Whiting said, “I was simply steeped, always and naturally as the sunshine, in the literary atmosphere of our quiet country home. The poets were my playmates, so to speak, my companions, my perpetual delight” (Rittenhouse, p. 4). The chief furnishings of her home, she said, were books and periodicals. She called herself a “dreamy and rudimentary girl who perceived the world as reflected through the pages of books rather than from outer realities themselves, and who was prone to regard the land of dreams as the only one worth living in” ( ...

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Willis, Nathaniel Parker (20 January 1806–20 January 1867), writer and editor, was born in Portland, Maine, the son of Nathaniel Willis, a journalist and editor, and Hannah Parker. In 1812 the Willis family moved to Boston, where Willis’s father established the Boston Advertiser...

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Wilson, Edmund (08 May 1895–12 June 1972), writer and critic, was born in Red Bank, New Jersey, the only child of Edmund Wilson, a lawyer who served as state attorney general, and Helen Mather Kimball; both parents came from families with roots in upstate New York. Although the younger Edmund was influenced by his father’s moral standards and Lincolnesque prose style, both parents were remote—his father absenting himself during long intervals of depression, his mother having lost her hearing....