Yvor Winters

Yvor Winters

Allen Tate once commented on Yvor Winters the poet thus: "If he has been neglected—when he has not been ignored—the reasons are not hard to find. He has conducted a poetic revolution all his own that owes little or nothing to the earlier revolution of Pound and Eliot, and that goes back to certain great, likewise neglected Tudor poets for metrical and stylistic models." Winters commented to Contemporary Authors: "Tate is wrong about this, but in general my admirers have read me as carelessly as my detractors."

Winters' early poems are written in a highly imagistic free verse that was admired by many of the experimentalists of the 1920s and 1930s. In a major mid-career re-orientation, he abandoned free verse entirely, and took up the formal austerity on which his current reputation—and in some circles his notoriety—now rests. But near-mystical identifcation with the natural world and immediate physical surroundings in which his early verse was steeped remained a characteristic of much of his later verse."

Winters writes, says William Troy, "like a combination of a medieval scholastic and a New England divine." ("Twaddle," said Winters.) Keith F. McKean asserts that "Winters defends reason and warns against certain aspects of romantic philosophy," and explains Winters's approach thus: "First, Winters believes, the critic should record any historical or biographical data necessary to understand the mind and the method of the author; second, he should analyze the literary theories that are relevant to the work; third, he must make a critique of the paraphrasable content; and fourth, he must make a critique of the feelings motivated by the experience; and last of all, he must judge the work."

Though his approach to literature has been called "narrow" and "dogmatic," he has, as Troy admits, sharpened the focus on certain problems and formulated useful distinctions. Poet Hayden Carruth has the highest praise for him: "I admire Winters, and what he has done for American literature; no one else could have done it—I mean aside from his own poems, some of which are superb. There's no one like him for making a simple declarative sentence crackle under your eyes like a burning apple-bough. Such magnificent wrath. . . . Of course, Winters is as insane as the rest of us, but he has made a whole career out of covering it up. . . . Winters is able to prove—demonstrate irrefutably with step-by-step arguments and copious illustrations from line and stanza—that our favorite poets are idiots, and in the process show us just why we like them so much."

Winters recorded his poems for the Library of Congress and the Yale Series of Recorded Poets.


Taught in coal camps of Madrid and Los Cerillos, NM, two years; University of Idaho, Moscow, instructor in French and Spanish, 1925- 27; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, instructor, 1928-37, assistant professor, 1937-41, associate professor, 1941-49, professor of English, 1949- 61, Albert Guerard Professor of Literature, 1961-66.



  • The Immobile Wind, M. Wheeler, 1921.
  • The Magpie's Shadow, Musterbookhouse, 1922.
  • The Bare Hills, Four Seas Co., 1927.
  • The Proof, Coward, 1930.
  • The Journey, Dragon Press, 1931.
  • Before Disaster, Tryon Pamphlets, 1934.
  • Poems, Gyroscope Press, 1940.
  • To the Holy Spirit, California Poetry Folios, 1947.
  • Three Poems, Cummington Press, 1950.
  • Collected Poems, A. Swallow, 1952, revised edition, 1960.
  • The Early Poems of Yvor Winters, 1920-1928, A. Swallow, 1966.
  • The Selected Poems of Yvor Winters, Swallow Press/Ohio University (Athens, OH), 1999.
  • Selected Poems, The Library of America (New York, NY), 2003.


  • Twelve Poets of the Pacific, New Directions, 1937.
  • Elizabeth Daryush, Selected Poems, Swallow Press, 1948.
  • Poets of the Pacific, Second Series, Stanford University Press, 1949.


  • Notes on the Mechanics of the Poetic Image, [Vienna], 1925.
  • (With Frances Theresa Russell) The Case of David Lamson: A Summary, Lamson Defense Committee, 1934.
  • Primitivism and Decadence: A Study of American Experimental Poetry, Arrow Editions, 1937.
  • Maule's Curse: Seven Studies in the History of American Obscurantism, New Directions, 1938.
  • The Anatomy of Nonsense, New Directions, 1943.
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson, New Directions, 1946.
  • In Defense of Reason, Swallow Press, 1947 , 3rd revised edition, A. Swallow, 1960.
  • The Function of Criticism: Problems and Exercises, A. Swallow, 1957, 2nd edition, 1966.
  • (Contributor) Irving Howe, editor, Modern Literary Criticism, Beacon Press, 1958.
  • On Modern Poets: Stevens, Eliot, Ransom, Crane, Hopkins, Frost, Meridian Books, 1959.
  • The Poetry of W. B. Yeats (pamphlet), A. Swallow, 1960.
  • The Poetry of J. V. Cunningham (pamphlet), A. Swallow, 1961.
  • The Brink of Darkness (pamphlet), A. Swallow, c. 1965.
  • (Contributor) Paul J. Alpers, editor, Elizabethan Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism, Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • Forms of Discovery: Critical and Historical Essays on the Forms of the Short Poem in English, A. Swallow, 1967.
  • (Compiler with Kenneth Fields) Quest for Reality: An Anthology of Short Poems in English, Swallow Press, 1969.
  • The Selected Letters of Yvor Winters, Swall Press/Ohio University Press (Athens, OH), 2000.

Work represented in many anthologies, including Robert Frost: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by James Melville Cox, Prentice-Hall, 1962; A Dial Miscellany, edited by William Wasserstrom, Syracuse University Press, 1963; and The Structure of Verse: Modern Essays on Prosody, edited by Harvey Seymour Gross, Fawcett, 1966. Contributor to Poetry, New Republic, MS, Hudson Review, Dial, Transition, American Caravan, Modern Verse, New Mexico Quarterly, Southern Review, American Literature, Kenyon Review, Sewanee Review, American Scholar, Arizona Quarterly, and other publications. Co-editor, Gyroscope, 1929-30; western editor, Hound and Horn, 1932-34.

Further Reading


  • Bogan, Louise, Selected Criticism: Prose, Poetry, Noonday, 1955.
  • Comito, Terry, In Defense of Winters: the Poetry and Prose of Yvor Winters, University of Wisconsin Press, 1986.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 32, 1985.
  • Davis, Dick, Wisdom & Wilderness: the Achievement of Yvor Winters, University of Georgia Press, 1983.
  • Deutsch, Babette, Poetry in Our Time, Columbia University Press, 1952.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 48: American Poets, 1880-1945, Second Series, Gale, 1986.
  • Glicksberg, C. I., American Literary Criticism, 1900-1950, Hendricks House, 1951.
  • Hyman, Stanley Edgar, The Armed Vision, Knopf, 1948.
  • Isaacs, Elizabeth,, An Introduction to the Poetry of Yvor Winters, Swallow, 1981.
  • Matthiessen, F. O., Responsibilities of the Critic, Oxford University Press, 1952.
  • McKean, Keith F., The Moral Measure of Literature, A. Swallow, 1961.
  • Moore, H. T., editor, The World of Lawrence Durrell, Southern Illinois University Press, 1962.
  • Nemerov, Howard, Poetry and Fiction: Essays, Rutgers University Press, 1963.
  • Powell, Grosvenor, Language as Being in the Poetry of Yvor Winters, Louisiana State University Press, 1980.
  • Pritchard, John Paul, Criticism in America, University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.
  • Whittemore, Reed, The Fascination of the Abomination, Macmillan, 1939.


  • American Quarterly, fall, 1967.
  • Bookman, June, 1928.
  • Centennial Review, fall, 1970.
  • Commonweal, October 20, 1967.
  • Criticism, fall, 1968.
  • Hudson Review, summer, 1968.
  • Nation, February 20, 1937.
  • New Republic, July 12, 1943, March 2, 1953, March 2, 1968.
  • New Statesman, September 24, 1960.
  • New York Review of Books, February 29, 1968.
  • New York Times Book Review, August 24, 1947.
  • Partisan Review, summer, 1968.
  • Poetry, August, 1958.
  • South Atlantic Quarterly, April, 1951.
  • Southern Review, winter, 1969.
  • Spectator, July 1, 1960.

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Yvor Winters


Allen Tate once commented on Yvor Winters the poet thus: "If he has been neglected—when he has not been ignored—the reasons are not hard to find. He has conducted a poetic revolution all his own that owes little or nothing to the earlier revolution of Pound and Eliot, and that goes back to certain great, likewise neglected Tudor poets for metrical and stylistic models." Winters commented to Contemporary Authors: "Tate is wrong . . .

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