Louis Untermeyer papers

Biographical and Historical Notes

American anthologist and poet Louis Untermeyer was most noted for the anthologies of poetry which he compiled and edited, in addition to the twenty-two books of his own poetry. By the end of his llife, Untermeyer had written, edited, or translated over one hundred books.

Untermeyer was born October 1, 1885, in New York City. Untermeyer's formal education was limited to several years of high school, which he left prior to graduation. He eventually received a high school diploma in 1965.

In 1902, before pursuing his literary interests, Untermeyer began a career as a salesman with Untermeyer-Robbins Company, his father's jewelry manufacturing enterprise. Prior to resigning the business in 1923, he became vice-president and manager of the Newark, New Jersey, factory.

From 1923 until his death in 1977, Untermeyer worked solely at his literary interests as a poet, writer, editor, translator, and lecturer. Untermeyer had been writing and editing for a number of years while working in the jewelry business, and by 1923, several volumes of his own poetry and at least six of his poetry anthologies had already been published. By the conclusion of his life, Untermeyer had written, edited, or translated over one hundred books for readers of all ages.

Most of Untermeyer's own poetry was published in twenty-two books of poetry, beginning with his first published work, First Love (1911). Untermeyer also wrote essays (particularly about poetry), parodies, short stories, a travel journal, juvenile fiction and poetry, a novel, biographies and an autobiography; and translated works by Heinrich Heine, Gottfried Keller, and Edmond Rostand.

Louis Untermeyer was most noted for the anthologies of poetry which he compiled and edited. Some of these works, first published in the 1920s, continued to be used as high school and college textbooks well into the 1970s. During his lifetime, Untermeyer developed numerous literary friendships with individuals who sought his help in getting published, contributed to his anthologies, or shared his enthusiasm for poetry.

Untermeyer was also noted for his lectures on poetry, drama, music, and other art forms. Presented throughout the United States, as well as in India and Japan, Untermeyer's popular lectures incorporated both his criticism of poetry and anecdotes about famous poets.

His lack of academic credentials did not diminish the recognition and respect Untermeyer's writing received. In 1956 he was awarded a Gold Medal by the Poetry Society of America honoring his service to poetry. Untermeyer was appointed as Poet in Residence at the University of Michigan (1939–1940), the University of Kansas City, Missouri (1939), and Iowa State College (1940). He also served as a consultant in English poetry for the Library of Congress from 1961 until 1963.

Through his anthologies, poetry, lectures, and relationships with numerous literary figures, Louis Untermeyer exercised substantial influence on American literature during his lifetime.


Lesniak, James G. (ed.) Contemporary Authors. New Revision Series, Volume 31. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1990. pp. 439-442.

Scope and Content Note

The Louis Untermeyer papers consist of five linear feet of manuscript material abandoned by Untermeyer when he sold his Adirondack home, Stony Water, around 1970. Dating from 1902 through 1972, with the bulk of the papers dating 1912–1935, the collection is composed of correspondence, proofs, lists, scrapbooks, notes, photographs, programs, announcements, lectures, anthologies, poems, reviews, essays, and a bookplate.

The papers provide a wealth of information on early twentieth-century literary and cultural figures who corresponded with Untermeyer, and document some of Louis Untermeyer's own contributions to contemporary literature.

Correspondence between Louis Untermeyer and over one hundred American and English authors, publishers, and editors comprise three-quarters of the collection. Included in the collection are letters from numerous prominent American literary figures, including Conrad Aiken, Hart Crane, H.D., Alfred Kreymborg, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, and Allen Tate. Publisher, editors, and anthologists are represented by William S. Braithwaite, Edward O'Brien, Eugene Jolas, Walter Lippmann, Harriet Monroe, Harold Munro, Alfred Harcourt, B.W. Huebsch, B. Russell Herts, William Rose Benet, and many others. Cultural figures include composer Ernest Bloch and director John Huston.

The letters record a variety of information about the correspondents, including discussions on their works in progress, facts about their personal lives, the struggles of young authors seeking publication (Conrad Aiken, Maxwell Bodenheim, John Gould Fletcher, Carl Sandburg), critiques of Untermeyer's poetry, comments by authors on their literary contemporaries, suggestions for Untermeyer's anthologies, as well as remarks on their political and social philosophies. Letters written to Louis Untermeyer from such young poets as Leonie Adams, Nathalia Crane, Louis Golding, John Hall Wheelock, and Humbert Wolfe, register their gratitude for his efforts on their behalf.

Two particularly substantial collections of letters in the collection are from Conrad Aiken (52 letters) and Carl Sandburg (48 letters). In his letters, Conrad Aiken discusses his critical opinions of modern poetry and poets, critiques Untermeyer's poetry, defends his early writing, describes his personal affairs, and details his methods for composing verse. Sandburg's letters discuss his philosophy of life, his family life, newspaper work, individual poems and collections, observations on Abraham Lincoln, and comments on American politics.

The smaller collections or single letters also reveal details of literary significance. For example, the only letter from Louis Golding to Untermeyer consists of a four-page autobiographical monologue, which includes a lengthy discussion of his experiences in World War I. Hart Crane's two-page letter to Untermeyer contrasts in detail his poetry with the poetry of T.S. Eliot.

The correspondence series also includes letters which Louis Untermeyer wrote to his third wife, lawyer Esther Antin, and letters to Untermeyer from his mother and brother. Occasionally, carbon copies of Untermeyer's responses to literary figures occur throughout the series.

The remainder of the collection is comprised of examples of Louis Untermeyer's own writing and editing, as well as scrapbooks of clippings which he gathered and his personal bookplate. Among the manuscripts are typescripts and/or galleys for three of the poetry anthologies which he edited (A Treasury of Great Poems, Modern American Poetry, and Modern British Poetry), typescripts for four of his unpublished works (The Friar's Tale, Light Verse, Miles Standish: An American Light Opera, and The World's Worst Poetry), as well as notes and typescripts for seven lectures.

These papers supply an understanding of Louis Untermeyer's contributions to contemporary American literature, as well as impressions of the lives and work of Untermeyer's literary contemporaries, particularly many prominent American poets.