Who was Leonard Bacon, and what did he contribute to American literature?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Leonard Bacon (1887-1954) was a Pulitzer-Prize winning American poet,critic, translator, and essayist who graduated in 1909 from Yale University after growing up in Rhode Island. After graduation, he moved to California where he taught; however, he retired from teaching in 1923 and devoted himself to his poetry. His most famous works are Ulug Bed, a mock epic, and Sunderland Capture, a group of satiric poems, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. Some of his early efforts included the translations of such epic works as the Heroic Ballads of Servia (1913) and El Cid (1919) from the Spanish.

After he left teaching in 1923, Bacon wrote poetry under a pseudonym; this poetry was published in The Saturday Review of Literature. In 1927 he became an expatriate as did many Americans at that time, living in Italy with his wife and daughter; however, in 1932 they returned to America and Bacon's poetry began to appear in such prestigious publications as Saturday Review,Atlantic, Harper's,and New Yorker. His stay in Florence, Italy, which differs greatly from the New England of his childhood, must have had little influence upon him as Bacon's poetry is said to be "an eloquent expression of the fierce Puritan intellectual tradition."

Still, despite such Puritan "fierceness," Bacon had a splendid expression of the beauty of nature as evinced in these lines from Sunderland Capture, lines replete with glorious imagery and lilting alliteration that are, perhaps, at least suggestive of his stay in sunny and emotional Italy,

The swallowtail butterfly over black moving marble
Of the pool, swooped down so you could hear the flick
Of his wings on the water, bright dipsomaniac.
Sunborn and yellow and thirsty as the sun
With the sound of a secret kiss he plunged again,
And yet again, and lay with bright wings flat
In sweet and golden exhaustion, gloating with the stream
Then revived, rose up anew into his world
of air, and danger, and light....

Certainly, then, there can be no question that Bacon contributed some lovely verse along with his satiric verses which both brought delight and enjoyment to his readers. 

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