Pre-Pulitzer Poetry by Robert Hillyer (Ebook)

[RJN: For several boring reasons I am announcing the latest Personville Book title on this blog. Below the book description is the book’s introduction and a Table of Contents.] 

Book Cover -- Pre Pulitzer poetry by Robert Hillyer

TITLE: Pre-Pulitzer Poetry

AUTHOR: Robert Hillyer (1895-1961)

Publisher: Personville Press

Word Count: 50,000 words (200 pages)

Publication Date: December 29 2023

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Before winning the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Robert Hillyer (1895-1961) explored a variety of subjects and poetic forms in his books. This new poetry collection contains six of Hillyer’s pre-Pulitzer books in their entirety, including a longer narrative poem (Carmus) that is a haunting fairy tale for adults.

Book Description

Before winning the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for poetry, Robert Hillyer (1895-1961) explored a variety of subjects and poetic forms in his books. This new poetry collection contains six of Hillyer’s pre-Pulitzer books in their entirety, including a longer narrative poem (Carmus) that is a haunting fairy tale for adults with beautiful imagery and sentences.

Hillyer was classmates with E.E. Cummings at Harvard and became lifelong friends with Robert Frost (who said that he and Hillyer had been “running side-by-side all these years, and he knows that I think of his poetry as he thinks of mine: with affection … (and) … admiration.” While poets of Hillyer’s era were flirting with modernism, imagism and symbolism, Hillyer was working with sonnets and pastorals, mostly rejecting free verse and the “existential agonies of modern man” in order to write about eternal themes like nature, love and death. Hillyer was not really an innovator. Hillyer felt most comfortable writing sonnets and other constricted forms with meter and rhyme, and his poems rarely sounded artificial or stilted. Although occasionally the poems used allusions to art and history and mythology, the poems mostly remained accessible and didn’t require elaborate footnotes.

This ebook edition also contains illustrations by Beatrice Stevens and two books of translations: a collection of Danish poetry and an improved translation in verse of the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It also includes an essay about Robert Hillyer’s poetry by horror writer Arthur Machen and an essay that Hillyer wrote comparing Egyptian religion with Christianity.

Recently Personville Press republished Hillyer’s 1942 poetic novel “My Heart for Hostage” (which evokes Hillyer’s experiences of living in Paris after WWI and presents a coherent aesthetic sensibility for a lyrical novel). This sensibility is apparent in his poems as well. Critics Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska said that the “gift that Hillyer possessed was an extremely sensitive ear for verbal music, a gift that, however ‘literary’ its speech may be, never fails to delight the reader, for among the best of Hillyer’s lyrics the clear strains of sixteenth-century music were revived and were sounded with the mastery that conceals its art.”

This volume includes English translations Hillyer did of Danish poems by notable Danish poets (sometimes for the first time). That includes: Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850), B.S. Ingeman (1789-1862), Poul M. Møller (1794-1838), Christian Winther (1796-1876), Frederick Paludan-Müller (1809-1876), Holger Drachmann (1846-1908), Johannes Jørgensen (1866-1956), Ludvig Holstein (1864-1943), Jeppe Aakjær (1866-1930), Sophus Claussen (1865-1931) and Johannes V. Jensen (1873-1950) .

About the Author: Between 1937-1945 Hillyer was the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard and taught several authors including Howard Nemerov, James Agee and Theodore Roethke. After that appointment ended, Hillyer taught at Kenyon College between 1948-1951 and ultimately finished his teaching career at University of Delaware between 1954-1961. In addition to publishing several more poetry collections after winning the Pulitzer, Hillyer published two books about versification and several scholarly essays about well-known poets. To avoid having lines of poetry run onto multiple lines, reading this ebook on smaller displays (such as mobile phones) is not recommended.

Introduction by Robert Nagle

This ebook collects several poetry books which Robert Hillyer (1895-1961) published during the 1920s.

I recently edited a critical ebook edition of Robert Hillyer’s 1942 novel My Heart for Hostage, which led me to explore all of Hillyer’s poetry. I wrote a long biographical sketch of Hillyer’s life and works which you can find on the Personville Press website.

Before Hillyer’s Collected Verse won the Pulitzer Prize in 1934, Hillyer had published 6 poetry books and 2 translations. Three of these poetry books (Alchemy, Carmus and Gates of the Compass) were longer narrative poems which Hillyer called “symphonic poems.” The first two symphonic poems (Alchemy and Carmus) contained beautiful illustrations by Beatrice Stevens. Ultimately I decided to omit Alchemy (1920) from this ebook because the large number of illustrations in Alchemy would make this ebook have an unwieldy file size. You can still view a free PDF scan of Alchemy on, and eventually Personville Press will release an ebook version of it as well. Carmus is still a terrific read and contains the original illustrations; the story is a haunting fairy tale for adults full of beautiful imagery and sentences. (I personally found it helpful to read the poem synopsis before diving into the poem, but some might prefer skipping it).

Seventh Hill appears first in this ebook even though it was the last to be published. I mostly tried to replicate the original sequence of the poems as they appeared in each book. Carmus was published together in the same volume as The Hills Give Promise, but that was probably done more for the publisher’s convenience than for artistic reasons. That is why they appear here as separate books.

Instead of listing each individual poem in the table of contents, this ebook lists poems at the top of the appropriate book section. At the end there is an “Index of First Lines” which should make it easy to look up a poem. There is a small number of notes and commentaries about individual poems which mainly pertain to textual discrepancies and perhaps relevant biographical details. By now, there are many online resources for looking up literary and mythological references (as I had to do for Hesperides in the poem titled “Halt in the Garden”), so there is rarely a need to mention them here.

In several cases, I added brief explanatory notes of a sentence or two in each section. Short notes are indicated with brackets […] to make it clear that they did not appear in the original books. Some poems translated for the Book of Danish Verse have never before been translated in English and their creators are probably unknown to English-speaking readers. For this reason, this ebook includes a 1-2 sentence biographical profile about these poets .

Audio Recordings. The Robert Hillyer page on Wikipedia also links to two audio recordings of Hillyer reciting his own poetry in the 1950s: University of Delaware recordings of audio readings (MSS 0696) and a recording of Hillyer reading his own poems at the Library of Congress (PL 25) on The University of Delaware recordings include Hillyer reciting a mix of original poems along with many of his favorite poems from previous centuries.
Layout & Presentation

When publishing poetry ebooks, it can be a challenge to convey line breaks and indents in accordance with the poet’s wishes (especially when the poet is no longer around). It can sometimes be ambiguous in the printed edition whether the stanza ends at the bottom of the page or at the beginning of the next. Hillyer’s rhyme and meter is fairly regular and predictable, so in most cases it can be easy to figure out these things. Some poems use indents and occasionally an indent is used for special emphasis or echo of a previous line.

Line length varies from poem to poem, but many of Hillyer’s poems have passages with long lines (sometimes 10 syllables or more). On an ebook, if a line exceeds the length of the screen, it appears as a runon which will be indented. (This may happen a lot if reading in a very small display). 95% of the time, you can tell the difference between an actual indented line (and not simply a continuation of a previous line) by checking if the 2nd line is capitalized (which indicates a planned indent). My best advice would be to try to read this ebook on a larger screen; if this is not possible, try to reduce font size as much as your eyes allow. If you discover any formatting problems or any other quality problems, feel free to drop me a line.

Pre-Pulitzer Poetry Table of Contents

Seventh Hill

  • Book One – Meditations
  • Book One – Sonnets
  • Book Three – Pastorals
  • Book Three – Prothalamion

Halt in the Garden

  • Introduction by Arthur Machen
  • Poems

The Hills Give Promise: Lyric Poems
Carmus: A Symphonic Poem

  • Synopsis
  • Canto I.
    • Interlude: Ocean
  • Canto II.
    •  Interlude: The Song of Frema, the Earth-Spirit
  • Canto III.
    •  Interlude
  • Canto IV.

Book of Danish Verse (Translations)

  • About the Danish Poets
  • By Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850)
  • By B.S. Ingeman (1789-1862)
  • By Poul M. Møller (1794-1838)
  • By Christian Winther (1796-1876)
  • By Frederick Paludan-Müller (1809-1876)
  • By Holger Drachmann (1846-1908)
  • By Johannes Jørgensen (1866-1956)
  • By Ludvig Holstein (1864-1943)
  • By Jeppe Aakjær (1866-1930)
  • By Sophus Claussen (1865-1931)
  • By Johannes V. Jensen (1873-1950)

Coming Forth by Day (Translations)

  • The Egyptian Religion (Essay)
  • Translated Verses from “Egyptian Book of the Dead”

Superficial Notes & Commentaries
Index of First Lines
About the Author