Witter Bynner (1881-1968), from The New World, 1922.. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Harold Witter Bynner (August 10, 1881 – June 1, 1968) was an American poet, prose writer, and scholar, known for his long residence in Santa Fe, New Mexico.



Bynner was born in Brooklyn, New York City, and brought up in Brookline, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard University in 1902.[1] Initially he pursued a career in journalism, and edited McClure's Magazine.[1] He later turned to writing, living in Cornish, New Hampshire until about 1915.

In 1916 he was one of the perpetrators, with Arthur Davison Ficke, a friend from Harvard, of an elaborate literary hoax. It involved a purported 'Spectrist' school of poets (along the lines of the Imagists) based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Spectra, a slim collection, was published under the pseudonyms of Anne Knish (Ficke) and Emanuel Morgan (Bynner). Marjorie Allen Seiffert, writing as Elijah Hay, was roped in to bulk out the 'movement'.[2]

Bynner traveled with Ficke and others to Japan, Korea and China in 1917.[3]

In New York, Bynner was a member of The Players club, the Harvard Club, and the Mac Dowell Club. In San Francisco, he joined the Bohemian Club.[1]

Bynner had a short spell in academia in 1918-1919 during World War I, at the University of California, Berkeley as Professor of Oral English. There, he composed Canticle of Praise and taught classes in poetry and verse writing.[1] He was forced to leave after serving alcohol to freshmen during Prohibition.[4]

He then traveled to China, and studied Chinese literature. He subsequently produced many translations from Chinese. His verse showed both Japanese and Chinese influences, but the latter were major. Bynner became more of a modernist in consequence, where previously he had been inclined to parody Imagism, and dismiss the orientalist pronouncements with which Ezra Pound was free.

Life and career in Sante FeEdit

Bynner settled in Santa Fe, in a steady and acknowledged 30-year homosexual relationship with Robert Hunt.[5] He became a friend of D.H. Lawrence, and traveled with him and Frieda von Richthofen in Mexico; he much later in 1951 wrote on Lawrence, while he and his partner Willard Johnson are portrayed in Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent. Bynner and Hunt had numerous parties at their house, hosting many notable writers, actors, and artists, which guests included Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Igor Stravinsky, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, Aldous Huxley, Clara Bow, Errol Flynn, Rita Hayworth, Christopher Isherwood, Carl Van Vechten, Martha Graham, Georgia O'Keeffe and Thornton Wilder.[5]

On January 18, 1965, Bynner had a severe stroke. He never recovered, and required constant care until he died on June 1, 1968. His papers are archived in the New Mexico State University Library.


His house is, as of 2008, the Inn of the Turquoise Bear, a bed and breakfast.[4][5][6][7]

The Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry was awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters from 1980 through 2002.[8]


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  • The Persistence of Poetry. San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1929.
  • Journey with Genius: Recollections and reflections concerning the D.H. Lawrences. New York: J. Day, 1951.
  • Prose Pieces (edited by James Kraft). New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1979.

Collected editionsEdit

  • The Works of Witter Bynner (edited by James Kraft). New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1978-1981.
  • The Selected Witter Bynner: Poems, plays, translations, prose, and letters (edited by James Kraft). Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1995.


  • Euripides, Iphigenia in Taurus: An English version. New York: Kennerley, 1915.
  • The Jade Mountain: A Chinese anthology, being three hundred poems of the T'ang dynasty, 618-906 (translated with Kiang Kang-hu). New York: Knopf, 1929.
  • The Way of Life According to Laotzu: An American version. New York: John Day, 1944.
  • The Chinese Translations. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1978.



  • Selected Letters (edited by James Kraft). New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1981.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[9]

Poems by Witter BynnerEdit

  1. The Hills of San Jose

See alsoEdit


  • Robert Lindsay, Witter Bynner: A bibliography. University of New Mexico Press, 1967.
  • James Kraft, Who Was Witter Bynner?. University of New Mexico Press, 1995..


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Herringshaw, Thomas William. American Elite and Sociologist Bluebook, p. 387. American Blue Book Publishers, 1922.
  2. William Jay Smith, The Spectra Hoax (1961).
  3. Bynner, Witter (1981). Selected Letters. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
  4. 4.0 4.1 University of California web site, Hidden History of the Berkeley Campus project page. Accessed November 25, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Inn of the Turquoise Bear web site History page. Accessed November 25, 2007.
  6. Fodor's listing. Accessed November 25, 2007.
  7. Andrew Collins, Desert Rose, Travel and Leisure (magazine) Dec. 2002, found at Travel and Leisure web site. Accessed November 25, 2007.
  8. Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry, American Academy of Arts and Letters. Web, Oct. 2, 2014.
  9. Search results = au:Witter Bynner, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, May 19, 2014.

External linksEdit

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