Authors: Yvor Winters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet and critic

Author Works


The Immobile Wind, 1921

The Magpie’s Shadow, 1922

The Bare Hills, 1927

The Proof, 1930

The Journey, and Other Poems, 1931

Before Disaster, 1934

Poems, 1940

The Giant Weapon, 1943

To the Holy Spirit, 1947

Collected Poems, 1952, 1960

Early Poems of Yvor Winters, 1920-1928, 1966

The Collected Poems of Yvor Winters, 1978

The Uncollected Poems of Yvor Winters, 1919-1928, 1997 (R. L. Barth, editor)

The Uncollected Poems of Yvor Winters, 1929-1957, 1997 (Barth, editor)

Short Fiction:

“The Brink of Darkness,” 1932, revised 1947


Primitivism and Decadence: A Study of American Experimental Poetry, 1937

Maule’s Curse: Seven Studies in the History of American Obscurantism, 1938

The Anatomy of Nonsense, 1943

Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1946

In Defense of Reason, 1947

The Function of Criticism: Problems and Exercises, 1957

On Modern Poets, 1957

The Poetry of W. B. Yeats, 1960

Forms of Discovery: Critical and Historical Essays on the Forms of the Short Poem in English, 1967

Uncollected Essays and Reviews, 1973 (Francis Murphy, editor)

Hart Crane and Yvor Winters: Their Literary Correspondence, 1978

The Selected Letters of Yvor Winters, 2000 (R. L. Barth, editor)

Edited Texts:

Twelve Poets of the Pacific, 1937

Selected Poems, 1948 (of Elizabeth Daryush)

Poets of the Pacific, 1949 (second series)


Arthur Yvor Winters was a poet, literary critic, college professor, and breeder of airedale terriers. Born in Chicago, as a child he also lived in California and Oregon, returning with his family to Illinois in 1913. Although his parents hoped Winters would be a doctor, they underwrote his efforts to earn degrees in languages and literature. Winters’s dedication to writing poetry and to the study of literature began when he was a high school student in Chicago, where he read Poetry, a leading monthly publication specializing in new American verse, and corresponded with its editor, Harriet Monroe.{$I[AN]9810001564}{$I[A]Winters, Yvor}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Winters, Yvor}{$I[tim]1900;Winters, Yvor}

In 1917 Winters entered the University of Chicago, but he was forced to withdraw in 1918 after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He left the Midwest for New Mexico, where he resided in a sanatorium from 1918 to 1922. During this time, he read widely and began writing poetry. Monroe accepted his first efforts in 1920 for Poetry. The next year, Winters published his first book of verse, The Immobile Wind, a collection of nineteen poems on the observation of nature. In his earliest work, it is possible to detect Winters’s preoccupations with formal techniques of verse composition, his interests in the power of evocative language, and his ability to compose poems with strong images. His second book of verse, The Magpie’s Shadow, was published in 1922.

With his health improved, Winters enrolled at the University of Colorado, where he earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in Romance languages. In 1925 he was hired by the University of Idaho as an instructor of languages, and he remained there until 1927. He married the writer Janet Lewis in 1926; in 1927, he published a third book of poems, The Bare Hills, again drawn from his observations of the natural world, especially the landscape of New Mexico.

Winters enrolled at Stanford University in 1927 to study for his doctoral degree. In 1928 he was appointed a lecturer. While teaching, Winters continued to write and study poetry, publishing in 1930 The Proof, a significant work in his canon. Divided into three sections, the book features free-verse poetry, Winters’s first published sonnet sequence, and a thematic section on loss. In The Proof, Winters demonstrated how powerful traditional forms of poetry could be in expressing current ideas, observations, and emotions. His fifth book, The Journey, and Other Poems, furthered Winters’s explorations of such themes as wisdom, being, time, the seasons, and human actions and their consequences. By 1934 Winters had earned his Ph.D.; his thesis was indicative of his research and verse writing at this time: “A Study of the Post-Romantic Reaction to Lyrical Verse, and Incidentally in Certain Other Forms.” He published another book of poetry, Before Disaster, which contains some of his better-known work, including “To My Infant Daughter” and “By the Road to the Sunnyvale Air-Base.”

From 1934 to 1966, Winters was a professor at Stanford. He published two more collections of poetry in 1940 and 1952. The first, called simply Poems, contains verse written between 1939 and 1940; it was printed by Winters at his Gyroscope Press in Los Altos, California. The second, Collected Poems, was published in 1952 by Alan Swallow Press of Denver.

Simultaneous with his verse writing, Winters was a student of literature and of literary criticism. Between 1937 and 1967, he published six books reflecting his theories of literature and verse composition. As a critic, Winters showed great range, commenting on a diverse group of writers including Emily Dickinson, Henry James, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and Hart Crane.

Forms of Discovery, Winters’s major critical book, is noteworthy as an example of his ability to define his positions and to support them with strong examples. In this work, he divides poetry into two main groups: one located in English poetry before 1700 and the other in American poetry written after 1830. To illustrate his claims, Winters lists and analyzes many individual poems, and he argues that verse should be ranked and judged according to the quality of the formal elements: tone, style, logic, rhythm, and word choice, especially as these make the meaning of a composition clear to the reader. Winters’s insistence on these quantitative aspects of verse made him unpopular as a literary critic, as poetry is often written without formal structure. Winters, though, was concerned with the effect the poem had on the reader rather than with the poet’s objectives in writing the piece. Winters’s reading and appreciation of the theological writings of St. Thomas Aquinas was the greatest influence on his critical method, and Winters addressed the moral effect of poetry’s form, content, and meaning in the scope of his entire critical work.

Winters also translated French and Spanish verse for magazine publications; wrote book reviews and literary articles, many of which are collected in Uncollected Essays and Reviews; operated his own printing press; published a short-lived magazine, The Gyroscope (1929-1930); wrote studies of the poets Edwin Arlington Robinson and William Butler Yeats; and edited the poetry of Elizabeth Daryush for publication in 1948. He died of cancer on January 25, 1968. In 1993 his letters were released from the terms of his will and became available for scholarly use and publication.

BibliographyGelpi, Albert. “Yvor Winters and Robinson Jeffers.” In A Coherent Splendor. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Gelpi notes that Winters’s early poems belie his critical precepts. They display the strong influence of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, despite Winters’s furious anti-Romantic denigration of both poets in his criticism. Winters strongly identified with the California landscape, as can be seen in The Magpie’s Shadow.Gunn, Thom. “On a Drying Hill.” In The Occasions of Poetry. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985. Gunn was a student of Winters at Stanford University. He describes Winters’s strong personality and his efforts to convert his students to his critical principles. Foremost among these was the rejection of Romantic poetry.Kaye, Howard. “The Post-symbolist Poetry of Yvor Winters,” The Southern Review 7, no. 1 (Winter, 1971): 176-197. Winters’s poetry strongly evokes landscape. His ability to portray the external world in a precise manner was remarkable. In Kaye’s view, Winters counts as one of the great twentieth century poets. His stress upon rationality and control reflects a fear of being overwhelmed by death and strong emotion. Winters’s struggle with his emotions is a leitmotif of his poetry. He attempted to extirpate his own Romantic tendencies.Rexroth, Kenneth. American Poetry in the Twentieth Century. New York: Herder, 1971. Rexroth contends that Winters was the true exile of his generation of writers. Most of his friends went to Paris, but health problems forced Winters to live in a dry climate. His move to Northern California kept him isolated, and his criticism became cranky and cliquish. He was an important poet who created an original variant of neoclassicism.Wellek, René. “Yvor Winters.” In A History of Modern Criticism: American Criticism, 1900-1950. Vol. 6. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986. Wellek gives a careful summary of the principles that underlie Winters’s poetry and criticism. A poem should express a moral judgment. The judgment, based on absolute moral values, is ideally incapable of being paraphrased. Winters deprecated the expression of emotion not under the strict dominance of reason.Winters, Yvor. The Selected Letters of Yvor Winters. Edited by R. L. Barth. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000. Selected correspondence offering insights into the life of a brilliant man, erudite writer, and lofty poet. Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
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