Biography of Mary Barnard
Mary Ethel Barnard (December 6, 1909 – August 25, 2001) was an American poet, biographer and Greek-to-English translator. She is known for her clear interpretation of the works of Sappho, a translation which has never gone out of print.
Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, Issue 94, was exclusively dedicated to her work and her correspondence with Pound. Barnard won a Levinson Award of Poetry from Poetry Magazine in 1935, and an Elliston Award for her Collected Poems, a Western States Book Award in 1986, (for Time and the White Tigress). Among other honors were: the Washington State Governor's Award for achievement in the literary arts, and the May Sarton Award for Poetry from the New England Poetry Club in 1987.
A discussion class on Barnard's translation of Sappho at Shimer College.
Barnard was born in Vancouver, Washington to Samuel Melvin and Bertha Hoard Barnard. Her father worked in the timber industry; growing up, she saw much of the backwoods in the vicinity as she accompanied her father to logging camps. She graduated from Reed College, just south of the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon, in 1932. Barnard worked for a few years as a social worker for the Emergency Relief Administration, and while curator of The Poetry Collection at the Lockwood Memorial Library (University at Buffalo, New York) arranged readings and amassed the writing of many modern poets.
Barnard won several Yaddo residencies circa 1936 - 38. Some of her first poetry was published during the years 1936 - 1940, in Five Young American Poets, published by New Directions Publishing founded by James Laughlin. She worked from 1945-50 as research assistant for Carl van Doren, biographer of Benjamin Franklin and generalist historian of Americana; she is acknowledged as having done most of the research on a biography of Jane Mecom, Franklin's youngest sister. Van Doren and Barnard had a common interest in the poet Elinor Wylie. Barnard also worked as a freelance writer.
Barnard was mentored via airmail from Italy by Ezra Pound after she sent him six poems, and was introduced to the likes of William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore. This generated a lifetime of lengthy correspondence with the former in addition to comprehensive instruction on the art of poetry from Pound. Pound encouraged Barnard to use translations to hone her poetic abilities. Pound also encouraged Barnard to visit Europe, meet H.D. (which did not happen despite pressure from Pound), and generally witness the continental European scene.
She returned to Vancouver after fifteen years on the East Coast and continued to write, mostly original poetry and prose, until her death.
Mary Barnard Poems
The seas has made a wall for its defence of falling water. Those whose impertinence leads them to its moving ledges it rejects. Those who surrender
Wheel of sorrow, centerless. Voices, sad without cause, slope upward, expiring on grave summits. Mournfulness of muddy playgrounds,
At supper time an ondine's narrow feet made dark tracks on the hearth. Like the heart of a yellow fruit was the fire's heat, but they rubbed together quite blue with the cold.
Height Is the Distance Down
What's geography? What difference what mountain it is? In the intimacy of this altitude its discolored snowfields overhang half the world.
Out of a high meadow where flowers bloom above cloud, come down; pursue me with reasons for smiling without malice.
Fable of the Ant and the Word
Ink-black, but moving independently across the black and white parquet of print, the ant cancels the author out. The page,
Encounter in Buffalo
The country lies flat, expressionless as the face of a stranger. Not one hillock shelters a buried bone. The city: a scene thin as a theater backdrop, where no doors open,
Rotting in the wet gray air the railroad depot stands deserted under still green trees. In the fields cold begins an end.
Remarks on Poetry and the Physical World
After reading Ash Wednesday she looked once at the baked beans and fled. Luncheonless, poor girl, she observed a kind of poetic Lent—
Encounter in Buffalo
The country lies flat, expressionless as the face of a stranger.
Not one hillock shelters a buried bone. The city:
a scene thin as a theater backdrop, where no doors open,
no streets extend beyond the view from the corner.
Only the railroad embankment is high, shaggy with grass.
Only the freight, knuckling a red sun under its wheels,
drags familiar box-car shapes down long perspectives
of childhood meals and all crossings at sunset.