William Ellery Leonard

(1876-1944 / United States)

Biography of William Ellery Leonard

William Ellery Leonard poet

William Ellery Leonard (January 25, 1876, in Plainfield, New Jersey – May 22, 1944, in Madison, Wisconsin) was an American poet and literary scholar.

From 1906 until the end of his life, Leonard taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, being an assistant professor of English. Among his prominent students were literary critic Leslie Fiedler and poet Clara Leiser, the latter an outspoken opponent of Nazism.

Over his career Leonard wrote numerous volumes of poetry, the first of which was Sonnets and Poems, a collection regarded as showing emotional intensity as well as psychological depth. He is most remembered, however, for Two Lives, a cycle of 250 sonnets telling the story of his tragic marriage. Stephen Vincent Benét called it the best American poem of the twentieth century. In his psychological autobiography, The Locomotive-God, he probed his agoraphobia. Leonard is also known for his many scholarly works, particularly translations of Aesop and Lucretius as well as the epic Beowulf.

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To The Victor

Man's mind is larger than his brow of tears;
This hour is not my all of time; this place
My all of earth; nor this obscene disgrace
My all of life; and thy complacent sneers
Shall not pronounce my doom to my compeers
While the Hereafter lights me in the face,
And from the Past, as from the mountain's base,
Rise, as I rise, the long tumultuous cheers.
And who slays me must overcome a world:

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