Yvor Winters

American poet and literary critic

Arthur Yvor Winters (October 17, 1900January 26, 1968) was an American poet and literary critic.

The land is numb.
It stands beneath the feet, and one may come
Walking securely, till the sea extends
Its limber margin, and precision ends.



Primitivism and Decadence : A Study of American Experimental Poetry (1937)

  • We may say that a poem in the first place should offer us new perceptions, not only of the exterior universe, but of human experience as well; it should add, in other words, to what we have already seen. This is the elementary function for the reader. The corresponding function for the poet is a sharpening and training of his sensibilities; the very exigencies of the medium as he employs it in the act of perception should force him to the discovery of values which he never would have found without the convening of all the conditions of that particular act, conditions one or more of which will be the necessity of solving some particular difficulty such as the location of a rhyme or the perfection of a cadence with disturbance to the remainder of the poem.
    • The Morality of Poetry
  • Now verse is more valuable than prose … for the simple reasons that its rhythms are faster and more highly organized than are those of prose, and so lend themselves to a greater complexity and compression of relationship, and that the intensity of this convention renders possible a greater intensity of other desirable conventions, such as poetic language and devices of rhetoric.
    • The Morality of Poetry
  • It will be seen that what I desire of a poem is a clear understanding of motive, and a just evaluation of feeling; the justice of the evaluation persisting even into the sound of the least important syllable. Such a poem is a perfect and complete act of the spirit; it calls upon the full life of the spirit; it is difficult of attainment, but I am aware of no good reason to be contented with less.
    • The Influence of Meter on Poetic Convention : Section III : The Scansion of Free Verse
  • To say that a poet is justified in employing a disintegrating form in order to express a feeling of disintegration, is merely a sophistical justification for bad poetry, akin to the Whitmanian notion that one must write loose and sprawling poetry to 'express' the loose and sprawling American continent. In fact, all feeling, if one gives oneself (that is, one's form) up to it, is a way of disintegration; poetic form is by definition a means to arrest the disintegration and order the feeling; and in so far as any poetry tends toward the formless, it fails to be expressive of anything.
    • The Influence of Meter on Poetic Convention, Section V : The Heroic Couplet and its Recent Rivals

The Audible Reading of Poetry (1951)

"The Audible Reading of Poetry", in The Hudson Review, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Autumn 1951)
  • I mean to indicate the reading of poetry not merely for the sensual ear, but for the mind's ear as well; yet the mind's ear can be trained only by the other, and the matter, practically considered, comes inescapably back to the reading of poetry aloud.
  • Poetry, as nearly as I can understand it, is a statement in words about a human experience, whether the experience be real or hypothetical, major or minor; but it is a statement of a particular kind. Words are symbols for concepts, and the philosopher or scientist endeavors as far as may be to use them with reference to nothing save their conceptual content. Most words, however, connote feelings and perceptions, and the poet, like the writer of imaginative prose, endeavors to use them with reference not only to their denotations but to their connotations as well. Such writers endeavor to communicate not only concepts, arranged, presumably, either in rational order or in an order of apprehensible by the rational mind, but the feeling or emotion which the rational content ought properly to arouse.

The Collected Poems of Yvor Winters (1960)

  • And you are here beside me, small,
    Contained and fragile, and intent
    On things that I but half recall —
    Yet going whither you are bent.
    I am the past, and that is all.
    • "At the San Francisco Airport" (1954)
  • The rain of matter upon sense
    Destroys me momently. The score:
    There comes what will come.
    • "At the San Francisco Airport" (1954)
  • Metal, intrinsic value, deep and dense,
    Preanimate, inimitable, still,
    Real, but an evil with no human sense,
    Dispersed the mind to concentrate the will.
    • "John Sutter"
  • What end impersonal, what breathless age,
    Incontinent of quiet and of years,
    What calm catastrophe will yet assuage
    This final drouth of penitential tears?
    • "John Sutter"
  • The land is numb.
    It stands beneath the feet, and one may come
    Walking securely, till the sea extends
    Its limber margin, and precision ends.
    • "The Slow Pacific Swell"
  • By practice and conviction formed,
    With ancient stubbornness ingrained,
    Although her body clung and swarmed,
    My own identity remained.
    • "Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight"
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