Louis Untermeyer

1885–1977
Louis Untermeyer
Louis Untermeyer was the author, editor or compiler, and translator of more than one hundred books for readers of all ages. He will be best remembered as the prolific anthologist whose collections have introduced students to contemporary American poetry since 1919. The son of an established New York jeweler, Untermeyer's interest in poetry led to friendships with poets from three generations, including many of the century's major writers. His tastes were eclectic. Martin Weil related in the Washington Post that Untermeyer once "described himself as 'a bone collector' with 'the mind of a magpie.'" He was a liberal who did much to allay the Victorian myth that poetry is a high-brow art. "What most of us don't realize is that everyone loves poetry," he was quoted by Weil as saying, pointing out the rhymes on the once-ubiquitous Burma Shave road signs as an example.

Untermeyer developed his taste for literature while still a child. His mother had read aloud to him from a variety of sources, including the epic poems "Paul Revere's Ride" and "Hiawatha." Bedtime stories he told to his brother Martin combined elements from every story he could remember, he revealed in Bygones: The Recollections of Louis Untermeyer. When he learned to read for himself, he was particularly impressed by books such as Alfred Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King and Dante's Inferno. Gustave Dore's illustrations in these books captivated him and encouraged his imagination toward fantasy. Almost fifty years later, Untermeyer published several volumes of retold French fairy tales, all illustrated by the famous French artist.

In addition to children's books and anthologies, Untermeyer published collections of his own poetry. He began to compose light verse and parodies during his teen years after dropping out of school to join his father's business. With financial help from his father, he published First Love in 1911. Sentiments of social protest expressed in the 1914 volume Challenge received disapproval from anti-communist groups forty years later; as a result of suspicion, Untermeyer lost his seat on the "What's My Line" game show panel to publisher Bennett Cerf. During the 1970s, he found himself "instinctively, if incongruously, allied with the protesting young," he wrote in the New York Times. In the same article he encouraged the spirit of experiment that characterized the decade, saying, "it is the non-conformers, the innovators in art, science, technology, and human relations who, misunderstood and ridiculed in their own times, have shaped our world." Untermeyer, who did not promote any particular ideology, remained a popular speaker and lecturer, sharing criticism of poetry and anecdotes about famous poets with audiences in the United States and as far away as India and Japan.

Untermeyer resigned from the jewelry business in 1923 in order to give all his attention to literary pursuits. Friendships with Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, Arthur Miller, and other literary figures provided him with material for books. For example, The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer contains letters selected from almost fifty years of correspondence with the New England poet. The anthologist's autobiographies From Another World and Bygones relate as much about other writers as they do about his personal life. Bygones provides his reflections on the four women who were his wives. Jean Starr moved to Vienna with Untermeyer after he became a full-time writer; Virginia Moore was his wife for about a year; Esther Antin, a lawyer he met in Toledo, Ohio, married him in 1933; fifteen years later, he married Bryna Ivens, with whom he edited a dozen books for children.

In his later years, Untermeyer, like Frost, had a deep appreciation for country life. He once told Contemporary Authors: "I live on an abandoned farm in Connecticut ... ever since I found my native New York unlivable as well as unlovable.... On these green and sometimes arctic acres I cultivate whatever flowers insist on growing in spite of my neglect; delight in the accumulation of chickadees, juncos, cardinals, and the widest possible variety of songless sparrows; grow old along with three pampered cats and one spoiled cairn terrier; season my love of home with the spice of annual travel, chiefly to such musical centers as Vienna, Salzburg, Milan, and London; and am always happy to be home again."

Career

Untermeyer-Robbins Co. and Charles Keller & Co. (a jewelry manufacturing enterprise), began in sales in 1902, became vice-president and manager of factory at Newark, NJ, resigned, 1923; writer, editor, and lecturer, 1923-77. Cultural editor, Decca Records, 1943-56. Poet in residence, University of Michigan, 1939-40, University of Kansas City, MO, 1939, and Iowa State College, 1940. U.S. representative at conferences in India, 1961. Conducted seminars in American poetry in Japan, 1962. Consultant in English poetry, Library of Congress, 1961-63, and honorary consultant in American Humanities. Wartime service: U.S. Office of War Information, publications editor, 1942; Armed Services Editions, editor, 1944.

Bibliography

  • The New Era in American Poetry (essays), Holt, 1919, reprinted, Scholarly Press, 1970.
  • Heavens (parodies), Harcourt, 1922.
  • American Poetry since 1900 (essays), Holt, 1923, reprinted, Folcroft, 1977.
  • The Forms of Poetry: A Pocket Dictionary of Verse, Harcourt, 1926, reprinted, Darby Books, 1982, latest revised edition, Harcourt, 1967.
  • Collected Parodies, Harcourt, 1926.
  • Moses (novel), Harcourt, 1928.
  • Blue Rhine, Black Forest, a Hand-and Day-Book (travel journal), Harcourt, 1930.
  • The Donkey of God (short stories), Harcourt, 1932.
  • Chip: My Life and Times, as Overheard by Louis Untermeyer (fiction; self-illustrated with Vera Neville), Harcourt, 1933.
  • (With Carter Davidson) Poetry: Its Appreciation and Enjoyment, Harcourt, 1934.
  • The Last Pirate: Tales from the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, Harcourt, 1934.
  • (With Clara Mannes) Songs to Sing to Children, Harcourt, 1935.
  • Heinrich Heine: Paradox and Poet, Volume 1: The Poems, Volume 2: The Life, Harcourt, 1937, reprinted, R. West, 1980.
  • (With others) Doorways to Poetry (textbook), Harcourt, 1938.
  • Play in Poetry (Henry Ward Beecher Lectures), Harcourt, 1938, Arden Library, 1980.
  • From Another World: The Autobiography of Louis Untermeyer, Harcourt, 1939.
  • (Reteller) The Wonderful Adventures of Paul Bunyan, Heritage, 1945.
  • (Reteller) Charles Perrault, French Fairy Tales Retold, illustrated by Gustave Dore, Didier, 1945.
  • (Reteller) Perrault, All the French Fairy Tales, illustrated by Dore, Didier, 1945.
  • (Reteller) Perrault, More French Fairy Tales Retold, illustrated by Dore, Didier, 1946.
  • A Century of Candymaking, 1847-1947, privately printed, 1947.
  • Makers of the Modern World (biography), Simon & Schuster, 1955.
  • Lives of the Poets: The Story of 1000 Years of English and American Poetry, Simon & Schuster, 1959.
  • The Kitten Who Barked (fiction), Golden Press, 1962.
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson: A Reappraisal, Library of Congress, 1963.
  • The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer, Holt, 1963.
  • Lives of the Poets 1963, Simon & Schuster, 1963.
  • The Second Christmas, Hallmark Cards, 1964.
  • The World's Greatest Stories: Fifty-Five Legends that Live Forever, Evans, 1964, published as The Firebringer, and Other Great Stories: Fifty-Five Legends that Live Forever, Evans, 1968.
  • Robert Frost: A Backward Look, Library of Congress, 1964.
  • Bygones: The Recollections of Louis Untermeyer (autobiography), Harcourt, 1965.
  • The Paths of Poetry: Twenty-Five Poets and Their Poems, Delacorte, 1966.
  • Merry Christmas, Golden Press, 1967.
  • Lift up Your Heart (consolation), Golden Press, 1968.
  • Your Lucky Stars (juvenile), Golden Press, 1968.
  • The Pursuit of Poetry: A Guide to Its Understanding and Appreciation with an Explanation of Its Forms and a Dictionary of Poetic Terms, Simon & Schuster, 1969.
  • Plants of the Bible (juvenile), paintings by Anne O. Dowden, Golden Press, 1970.
  • Cat o' Nine Tales (fiction), Heritage, 1971.
  • Said I to Myself, Said I: Reflections and Reappraisals, Digressions and Diversions, privately printed, 1978.
POETRY
  • The Younger Quire (parodies), Mood Publishing, 1911.
  • First Love, French, 1911.
  • Challenge, Century, 1914.
  • —and Other Poets (parodies), Holt, 1916.
  • These Times, Holt, 1917.
  • Including Horace, Harcourt, 1919.
  • The New Adam, Harcourt, 1920.
  • Roast Leviathan, Harcourt, 1923, reprinted, Arno, 1975.
  • (With son, Richard Untermeyer) Poems, privately printed, 1927.
  • Burning Bush, Harcourt, 1928.
  • Adirondack Cycle, Random House, 1929.
  • Food and Drink, Harcourt, 1932.
  • First Words before Spring, Knopf, 1933.
  • Selected Poems and Parodies, Harcourt, 1935.
  • For You with Love (juvenile), Golden Press, 1961.
  • Long Feud: Selected Poems, Harcourt, 1962.
  • One and One and One (juvenile), Crowell-Collier, 1962.
  • This Is Your Day (juvenile), Golden Press, 1964.
  • Labyrinth of Love, Simon & Schuster, 1965.
  • Thanks: A Poem (juvenile), Odyssey, 1965.
  • Thinking of You (juvenile), Golden Press, 1968.
  • A Friend Indeed, Golden Press, 1968.
  • You: A Poem, (juvenile), illustrations by Martha Alexander, Golden Press, 1969.
EDITOR OR COMPILER
  • Modern American Verse, Harcourt, 1919, published as Modern American Poetry (also see below), 1921, revised edition, 1969.
  • A Miscellany of American Poetry, Granger, 1920, reprinted, 1978.
  • Modern British Poetry (also see below), Harcourt, 1920, revised edition, 1969.
  • Modern American and British Poetry, Harcourt, 1922, 9th revised edition, 1962.
  • American Poetry, 1922: A Miscellany, Granger, 1922, reprinted, 1976.
  • This Singing World, Harcourt, Volume 1: An Anthology of Modern Poetry for Young People, 1923, Volume 2: Junior Edition, 1926, Volume 3: For Younger Children, 1926.
  • American Poetry 1925: A Miscellany, Granger, 1925, reprinted, 1977.
  • Walt Whitman, Simon & Schuster, 1926.
  • Yesterday and Today: A Comparative Anthology of Poetry, Harcourt, 1926, revised edition published as Yesterday and Today: A Collection of Verse (Mostly Modern) Designed for the Average Person of Nine to Nineteen and Possibly Older, 1927.
  • American Poetry, 1927: A Miscellany, Granger, 1927, reprinted, 1978.
  • Emily Dickinson, Simon & Schuster, 1927.
  • Conrad Aiken, Simon & Schuster, 1927.
  • (With Clara and David Mannes) New Songs for New Voices (poems; juvenile), Harcourt, 1928.
  • A Critical Anthology: Modern American Poetry, Modern British Poetry (contains revised editions of Modern American Poetry and Modern British Poetry), Harcourt, 1930.
  • American Poetry from the Beginning to Whitman, Harcourt, 1931.
  • The Book of Living Verse: English and American Poetry from the Thirteenth Century to the Present Day, Harcourt, 1932, 2nd revised edition published as The Book of Living Verse: Limited to the Chief Poets, 1939, text edition, 1949.
  • The New Treasury of Verse, Odhams Press, 1934.
  • Rainbow in the Sky (poems; juvenile), Harcourt, 1935, reprinted, 1980.
  • Stars to Steer By (poems; juvenile), Harcourt, 1941.
  • A Treasury of Great Poems: English and American, Simon & Schuster, 1942, revised edition published as A Concise Treasury of Great Poems, English and American, from the Foundations of the English Spirit to the Outstanding Poetry of Our Own Time, 1955, revised and enlarged edition published as A Treasury of Great Poems, English and American, with Lives of the Poets and Historical Settings Selected and Integrated by Louis Untermeyer, two volumes, 1964.
  • Edgar Allan Poe, Complete Poems, Heritage, 1943.
  • Henry W. Longfellow, Poems, Heritage, 1943.
  • Robert Frost, Come In, and Other Poems, Holt, 1943, revised and enlarged edition published as The Road Not Taken: An Introduction to Robert Frost, 1951.
  • Great Poems from Chaucer to Whitman, Editions for the Armed Services, 1944.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poems, Heritage, 1945.
  • (And author of introduction) The Pocket Book of Story Poems, Pocket Books, 1945, revised and enlarged edition published as Story Poems: An Anthology of Narrative Verse, Washington Square Press, 1957.
  • John Greenleaf Whittier, Poems, Heritage, 1945.
  • (And author of foreword) Love Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, Rutgers University Press, 1946.
  • A Treasury of Laughter, Simon & Schuster, 1946.
  • The Book of Noble Thoughts, American Artists Group, 1946.
  • William Cullen Bryant, Poems, Heritage, 1947.
  • (With others) The Pocket Treasury (prose selections), Pocket Books, 1947.
  • Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat, Random, 1947.
  • Anthology of the New England Poets from Colonial Times to the Present Day, Random, 1948.
  • The Love Poems of Robert Herrick and John Donne, Rutgers University Press, 1948.
  • The Pocket Book of American Poems from the Colonial Period to the Present Day, Pocket Books, 1948.
  • The Inner Sanctum Walt Whitman, Simon & Schuster, 1949.
  • (With R. E. Shikes) The Best Humor of 1949-50, Holt, 1951.
  • (With Shikes) The Best Humor of 1951-52, Holt, 1952.
  • Emily Dickinson, Poems, Heritage, 1952.
  • The Magic Circle: Stories and People in Poetry, Harcourt, 1952.
  • Early American Poets, Literary Publishers, 1952, reprinted, Books for Libraries, 1970.
  • The Book of Wit and Humor (prose selections), Mercury Books, 1953.
  • (And author of commentary) A Treasury of Ribaldry, Hanover House, 1956.
  • The Golden Treasury of Poetry (juvenile), Golden Press, 1959.
  • The Britannica Library of Great American Writing (prose selections), two volumes, Britannica Press, 1960.
  • Albatross Book of Verse: English and American Poetry from the 13th Century to the Present Day, Collins, 1960, revised and enlarged edition, 1978.
  • (And author of commentary) Lots of Limericks, Light, Lusty and Lasting, Doubleday, 1961.
  • (With wife, Bryna Untermeyer) Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm and Wilhelm Karl Grimm, Fairy Tales; the Complete Household Tales of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, Limited Editions Club, 1962.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) Legendary Animals (juvenile), Western, 1963.
  • An Uninhibited Treasury of Erotic Poetry, Dial, 1963.
  • The Pan Book of Lymericks, Pan Books, 1963.
  • Love Sonnets, Odyssey, 1964.
  • (And adapter) Aesop's Fables, Golden Press, 1965.
  • Love Lyrics, Odyssey, 1965.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) The Golden Treasury of Children's Literature, Western, 1966 (published in England as The Children's Treasury of Literature in Colour, Hamlyn, 1966).
  • Songs of Joy: Selections from the Book of Psalms (juvenile), World Publishing, 1967.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) Words of Wisdom (quotations), Golden Press, 1968.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) Tales and Legends, Golden Press, 1968.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) Adventure Stories, Golden Press, 1968.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) Animal Stories, Golden Press, 1968.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) Favorite Classics, Golden Press, 1968.
  • (And adaptor) Tales from the Ballet, Golden Press, 1968.
  • A Time for Peace: Verses from the Bible, World Publishing, 1969.
  • The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense, Golden Press, 1970.
  • Roses: Selections, paintings by Dowden, Golden Press, 1970.
  • Men and Women: The Poetry of Love, American Heritage Press, 1970.
  • The Golden Book of Poems for the Very Young, Golden Press, 1971.
  • The Golden Treasury of Animal Stories and Poems, Golden Press, 1971.
  • Treasury of Great Humor: Including Wit, Whimsy and Satire from the Remote Past to the Present, McGraw, 1972.
  • Fifty Modern American and British Poets, 1920-1970, McKay, 1973.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) Stories and Poems for the Very Young, Golden Press, 1973.
  • (With B. Untermeyer) A Galaxy of Verse, Evans, 1978.
  • New Enlarged Anthology of Robert Frost's Poems, Washington Square Press, 1982.
Also editor of The Poems of Anna Wickham, 1921.

TRANSLATOR
  • Heinrich Heine, Poems, Harcourt, 1923.
  • (And adapter) Gottfried Keller, Fat of the Cat, and Other Stories, Harcourt, 1925.
  • Heine, Poetry and Prose, Citadel, 1948.
  • Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Limited Editions Club, 1954.
  • (And editor) Heine, The Poems of Heinrich Heine, Limited Editions Club, 1957.
OTHER
  • Editorial consultant, "Prose and Poetry" series of recordings, L. W. Singer Co., 1963. Contributor to periodicals, including New Republic, Yale Review, Saturday Review, and others. Contributing editor, The Liberator, 1918-24; poetry editor, American Mercury, 1934-37; co-founder and contributing editor, Seven Arts.

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Untermeyer, Louis, From Another World: The Autobiography of Louis Untermeyer, Harcourt, 1939.
  • Untermeyer, Louis, Bygones: The Recollections of Louis Untermeyer, Harcourt, 1965.
PERIODICALS
  • Best Sellers, November 15, 1969.
  • New York Times, October 1, 1970.

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Articles About LOUIS UNTERMEYER

Poet Categorization

SCHOOL / PERIOD Modern

LIFE SPAN 1885–1977

Louis Untermeyer

Biography

Louis Untermeyer was the author, editor or compiler, and translator of more than one hundred books for readers of all ages. He will be best remembered as the prolific anthologist whose collections have introduced students to contemporary American poetry since 1919. The son of an established New York jeweler, Untermeyer's interest in poetry led to friendships with poets from three generations, including many of the century's . . .

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