Léonie Adams


Biography of Léonie Adams

Léonie Fuller Adams (9 December 1899 – 27 June 1988) was an American poet. She was appointed the seventh Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1948.

Adams was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in an unusually strict environment. She was not allowed on the subway until she was eighteen, and even then her father accompanied her. She studied at Barnard College where she was a contemporary and friend of roommate Margaret Mead. While still an undergraduate, she showed remarkable skill as a poet, and at this time her poems began to be published. In 1924, she became the editor of The Measure.

Her first volume of poetry, titled Those Not Elect, was in 1925.

In the spring of 1928, she had a brief affair with Edmund Wilson. Léonie apologized to Wilson for having "moped and quarreled" on the day she left for France. While in London, Leonie met H.D., who introduced her to several figures in the London literary scene; in Paris she was invited to tea by Gertrude Stein. At the beginning of 1929, when Wilson wrote to her that he was thinking of marrying another woman, Leonie wrote back that she had had a pregnancy and hinted that she had had a miscarriage, mentioning the need for a visit to a London doctor in October. Guilt over the pregnancy — both Wilson, and a former student, Judith Farr, reported that Léonie had a gift for making others feel guilty — combined with his heavy drinking, and indecision in other elements of his personal life led Wilson to a nervous collapse. Louise Bogan later revealed to him that Léonie's pregnancy had been imaginary, and this caused a temporary rift between Bogan and Adams.

In 1929 appeared her volume High Falcon. During the 1930s, she lived in the Ramapo Mountains near Hillburn, New York, and commuted to New York City to lecture on Victorian poetry at New York University. In 1930, she met writer and fellow New York University teacher William Troy. The two married in 1933. That same year she published This Measure. In 1935 she and her husband joined the faculty of Bennington College.

She taught English at various other colleges and universities including Douglass College (then known as the New Jersey College for Women), the University of Washington, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, Columbia University, and Sarah Lawrence College. The poets for whom Adams acted as a mentor included Louise Glück. In 1950, she received an honorary doctorate from the New Jersey College for Women.

Adams' Poems: A Selection won the 1954 Bollingen Prize. In a review of the book, Louise Bogan wrote: "Poems such as "Companions of the Morass," "For Harvest," "Grapes Making," and "The Runner with the Lots" spring from and are indications of a poetic endowment as deep as it is rare."

In 1955, in a brief autobiography written for a biographical dictionary of modern literature, Adams threw a little light on her religious and political views: "My father... made me a childhood agnostic — I am now a Roman Catholic.... I am a very liberal democrat."

In 1988, she died at the age of 88 in New Milford, Connecticut.

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Apostate

From weariness I looked out on the stars
And there beheld them, fixed in throbbing joy,
Nor racked by such mad dance of moods as mars
For us each moment's grace with swift alloy.
And as they pierced the heavens' serene deep
An envy of that one consummate part
Swept me, who mock. Whether I laugh or weep,
Some inner silences are at my heart.
Cold shame is mine for all the masks I wear,

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