Ficke was born in Davenport, Iowa, to a Unitarian family, Frances (Davison) and Charles August Flicke, a prominent local lawyer. He attended Davenport High School, where he edited, and published poems and stories in, the school newspaper, graduating in 1900. He then went to Harvard University, where he published poetry in the literary magazine, the Harvard Advocate. He was elected president of the Advocate and class poet in 1904, the year he graduated.
In 1906 and 1907 Ficke attended law school, and taught English at the State University of Iowa. He married Evelyn B. Blunt in 1907. He was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1908, and began practising law in his father's firm. During those years he published his first three collections of poetry.
In 1912 Ficke sent a book of his to poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, beginning a lifelong relationship with her. The following year he published a play, Mr. Faust, and Twelve Japanese Painters, which established him as an authority on Japanese art. He followed the latter book up with the 1915 Chats on Japanese Prints, which was described in The Dial as "easily the best book about Japanese prints that has yet been written."
Ficke and his Harvard friend, Witter Bynner, propagated the literary hoax of Spectrism in 1916, as a parody of Imagism and similar modernist free verse. Bynner, Ficke, and Elijah Haye began submitting parody verse to modernist journals under pseudonyms (Ficke's was "Anne Knish") to modernist literary magazines, which began publishing them. That was followed by the publication of an anthology, Spectra: A book of poetic experiments, in 1918. The hoax succeeded, fooling literary critics until 1918, when Ficke revealed the secret. However, Ficke later came to believe that the modernist poetry he had produced as Knish contained some of his best work.
France enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 during World War I, and served in France. On route to France he finally met Millay, with whom he had a passionate three-day affair. In France he met artist Gladys Brown, who was serving as an ambulance driver. On returning to the United States in 1922, Ficke divorced his wife and married Brown, and left Davenport and his law practice.
Ficke and his wife moved to upstate New York, where he continued to write and publish poetry, as well as his one novel, Mrs. Morton of Mexico (1939). He died of cancer in Hudson, New York, aged 62.
Ficke is often considered a fairly conservative poet, sticking to traditional styles and forms during the time when modernism was dominating the world of literature and writers were using a whirlwind of experimental types of poetry. Ficke was displeased by what he saw as the inaesthetic nature of these experiments, which was the main motivation for the Spectrist hoax, intended as a send-up of these poets. Much of his early work was in traditional meter and rhyme scheme: Sonnets of a Portrait-Painter is an example. After the publication of Spectra, he did experiment in other forms; "Christ in the Desert" was his first work without formal meter or rhyme.
- Their Book (with Tom Metcalf). [Chicago?]; privately printed, 1901.
- From the Isles: A series of songs out of Greece. Norwich, UK: Samurai Press, 1907.
- The Happy Princess, and other poems. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1907.
- The Earth Passion, Boundary, and other poems. Cranleigh, Surrey, UK: Samurai Press, 1908.
- Some Recent Poems of Note. Chicago: 1910.
- Sonnets of a Portrait-Painter. New York: Kennerley, 1914
- abridged version included in Sonnets of a Portrait-Painter, and other sonnets. New York: Kennerley, 1922.
- The Man on the Hilltop, and other poems. New York: Kennerley, 1915.
- Spectra: A book of poetic experiments (as "Anne Knish," with Witter Bynner as "Emanuel Morgan"). New York: Kennerley, 1916.
- An April Elegy. New York: Kennerley, 1917.
- Out of Silence, and other poems. New York: Knopf, 1924.
- Selected Poems. New York: Doran, 1926.
- Christ in China: A poem. Moline, IL: 1927.
- Mountain against Mountain. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1929.
- The Secret, and other poems. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1936.
- Tumultuous Shore, and other poems. New York: Knopf, 1942.
- The Breaking of Bonds: A drama of the social unrest. Boston, MA: Sherman, French, 1910.
- Mr. Faust (verse drama; adapted from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust). New York: Kennerley, 1913.
- The Road to the Mountain: A lyrical pageant in three acts (not published), 1930.
- The Ghost of Sharaku. San Francisco, CA: Grabhorn Press, 1951.
- Mrs. Morton of Mexico (novel; illustrated by Gladys Brown). New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939.
- Twelve Japanese Painters. Chicago: Ralph Fletcher Seymour, 1913.
- Chats on Japanese Prints (criticism and poetry). New York: Stokes, 1915.
- The Problem of Censorship. Davenport, IA: Contemporary Club, 1922.
- The Hell of the Good (as "Edouard de Verb"). Santa Fe, NM: 1930.
- Prairie Gold (short stories). Chicago: Reilly & Britton, 1917.
Audio / videoEdit
- Arthur Davison Ficke Recording His Poems at the City College of New York (78). Washington, DC: Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature (Library of Congress, 1940-1941.
Poems by Arthur Davison FickeEdit
- "November Night"
- Arthur Davison Ficke in The New Poetry: An anthology: "Meeting," "Among Shadows," "The Three Sisters," "Portrait of an Old Woman," "I am Weary of Being Bitter," from Sonnets of a Portrait Painter, "Like Him Whose Spirit".
- Arthur Davison Ficke 1883-1945 at the Poetry Foundation
- Arthur Davison Ficke at PoemHunter (12 poems).
- Ficke in Poetry: A magazine of verse, 1912-1922: "Poetry," "Swinburne, an Elegy," "To a Child Twenty Years Hence," "Portrait of an Old Woman," "The Three Sisters," "Among Shadows," "A Watteau Melody," "I Am Weary of Being Bitter," "The Birdcage," "Don Giovanni," "Like Him Whose Spirit," "Snowtime," "Meeting," "To Rupert Brooke," "Four Japanese Paintings," "Perspective of Co-ordination," "World Beyond World," "Leaf-movement," "Old Wives' Tale," "Holy Writ," "The Book of Lu T'ang Chu"
- Works by Arthur Davison Ficke at Project Gutenberg
- Arthur Davison Ficke at Amazon.com
- Arthur Davison Ficke, themargins.net
- Audio / video
- Ficke, Arthur Davison at the Biographical Dictionary of Iowa
- Arthur Davison Ficke (1883-1945) at Strangers to Us All: Lawyers and poetry
- "Twins in My Cradle: Arthur Davison Ficke, Iowa poet" at the University of Iowa Library.
- Japanese influences on Ficke's work
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