Who was George Dillon, and what did he contribute to American literature?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Hill Dillon was born at the beginning of the twentieth century (1906) in Florida, but he spent the majority of his growing-up years in the Midwest and Kentucky. He attended the University of Chicago and earned his degree in English in 1927.

Five years later, in 1932, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the year after Robert Frost won it and the year before Archibald MacLeish did so. He was also awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship the same year. His most notable work is a collection of poetry called The Flowering Stone. Dillon also served as editor of Poetry magazine from 1937 to 1949, appointed to take over the position by the founder, Harriet Monroe.

These are of course significant achievements and contributions to the American literary world; however, Dillon is probably more well known for two other things which happened in his life. 

First, he was a member of the Signal Corps during World War II. When he was standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower, he saw the German troops being routed and leaving Paris. In Morse code, Dillon sent this now-famous message: "Paris is Free."

Second, Dillon was one of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay's lovers. He met her when she came to the University of Chicago in 1928 to give a public reading of her work. Consequently, the two began both a personal and a collaborative relationship.

Dillon was the inspiration for Millay's epic 52-sonnet sequence Fatal Interview and they later collaborated on translations from Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal in 1936.

The work which earned Dillon the Pulitzer Prize (The Flowering Stone) is a compilation of romantic poems which chronicle his relationship with Millay. It was his second collection of poetry, written when he was only 25 years old. His first compilation was published in 1927 and was entitled Boy in the Wind.

In addition to being a poet and an editor, Dillon was also a translator. Along with the translations he worked on with Millay, Dillon spent much of his life translated the works of Racine, a French poet. His translations and other selected papers are currently held at Syracuse University Library.

Dillon retired from his job as editor at the age of 43 and spent his remaining years working on his translations until his death in 1968.