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Witter Bynner

Harold Witter Bynner, also known by the American poet, writer and scholar, known for his long residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and association with other literary figures there.


  • Early life 1
  • New York and New Hampshire 2
  • Asia and Berkeley 3
  • Santa Fe and Mexico 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Books 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Bynner was born in An Ode to Harvard (later changed to Young Harvard), came out in 1907.[1] In 1911 he was the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa Poet.[2]

New York and New Hampshire

After a trip to Europe, he took a position at McClure's Magazine and remained there for four years, meeting and socializing with many New York writers and artists. He then turned to independent writing and lecturing, living in Cornish, New Hampshire.[1]

In 1916 he was one of the perpetrators, with Marjorie Allen Seiffert, writing as Elijah Hay, was also part of the "movement".[3]

Bynner was friendly with Kahlil Gibran and introduced the writer to his publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, who went on to publish Gibran's The Prophet in 1923.[4] Gibran drew a portrait of Bynner in 1919.

In New York, Bynner was a member of The Players club, the Harvard Club, and the MacDowell Club. In San Francisco, he joined the Bohemian Club.[5]

Asia and Berkeley

Bynner traveled with Ficke and others to Japan, Korea and China in 1917.[6]

He 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 to teach poetry. His students included several who became published poets of some note, such as Stanton A. Coblentz, Hildegarde Flanner, Idella Purnell, and Genevieve Taggard. In celebration of the end of the war, he composed A Canticle of Praise, performed in the Hearst Greek Theatre before some eight thousand people.[7] He met professor of Chinese Kiang Kang-hu and began an eleven-year collaboration with him on the translation of T'ang Dynasty poems. His teaching contract was not renewed, but his students continued to meet as a group and he occasionally joined them. An elaborate dinner honoring him was held at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco and a book of poems by students and friends, W.B. in California, was given to all who were present.[8]

Bynner traveled to China from June 1920 to April 1921 for intensive study of Chinese literature and culture.[1] He met sculptor Beniamino Bufano en route.[9] He returned to California and went to see family in New York, then embarked on another lecture tour, which took him to Santa Fe, New Mexico in February 1922. Exhausted and suffering from a lingering cold, he decided to cancel the rest of his tour and rest there.[1]

Santa Fe and Mexico

After another trip to Berkeley, where he enlisted his former student Walter Willard “Spud” Johnson to join him as his secretary (and lover), in June 1922 he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mabel Dodge Luhan introduced them to D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, and Bynner and Johnson joined the Lawrences on a trip through Mexico in 1923. The trip led to several Lawrence essays and his novel The Plumed Serpent, including characters based on Bynner and Johnson. Bynner 's related writings include three poems about Lawrence, and Journey with Genius, a memoir published in 1951.[1]

Mabel Dodge Luhan was not pleased about their trip, and she is said to have taken revenge on Bynner by hiring Johnson to be her own secretary. Bynner in turn wrote a play, Cake, satirizing her lifestyle. In 1930 Robert "Bob" Hunt arrived, originally for a visit while recuperating from an illness, but he stayed on as Bynner's lifelong companion. Together they entertained artists and literary figures such as 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. They also made frequent visits to a second home in Chapala, Mexico.[1]

Bynner served as president of the Poetry Society of America from 1921 to 1923.[10] To encourage young poets, he created the Witter Bynner Prize for Undergraduate Excellence in Poetry, administered by the Poetry Society in cooperation with Palms poetry magazine, of which he was associate editor. Two recipients of the award were Countee Cullen in 1925 and Langston Hughes in 1926.

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.[11]

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.[12]

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 c d e f Kraft, James (1995). Who Is Witter Bynner? A Biography. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.  
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of American Poetry: The Twentieth Century. Google Books (Routledge). 2001. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Smith, William Jay (1961). The Spectra Hoax. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
  4. ^ Silverman, Al (2008). The Time of Their Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Book Publishers. New York: Truman Talley. p. 316.  
  5. ^ Herringshaw, Thomas William. , p. 127American Elite and Sociologist Bluebook. American Blue Book Publishers, 1922.
  6. ^ Bynner, Witter (1981). Selected Letters. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
  7. ^ Bynner, Witter (1920). A Canticle of Pan and Other Poems. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. vii. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  8. ^ University of California web site, Hidden History of the Berkeley Campus project page. Accessed November 1, 2013. See also Lyman, William Whittingham, "Witter Bynner: A Tribute,' manuscript in the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
  9. ^ Wilkening, H.; Brown, Sonia (1972). Bufano: An Intimate Biography. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books.  
  10. ^ "Witter Bynner," Harvard Square Library
  11. ^ "History, Inn of the Turquoise Bear". Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  12. ^ "Witter Bynner Foundation website". Retrieved 23 August 2014. 


  • Kline, Lynn (2007). Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies, 1917–1950. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 
  • Lindsay, Robert (1967). Witter Bynner: a Bibliography. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 

External links

  • Witter Bynner Papers at: Augustana College, Harvard, New Mexico State University, University of California, Berkeley, University of New Hampshire
  • Works by Witter Bynner at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Witter Bynner at Internet Archive
  • Works by Witter Bynner at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
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