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John Gould Fletcher


John Gould Fletcher was born on January 3, 1886, in Little Rock, Arkansas. The son of a cotton broker, he enrolled at Harvard University but left before receiving a degree. He began writing poetry during a trip to the West Coast in 1905.

After his father died in 1906, leaving him an independent income, Fletcher moved to Italy and later settled in London. There, he met Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and the other imagist poets. Although he initially declined Pound’s invitation to appear in his anthology Des Imagistes, Fletcher joined the imagist group after Amy Lowell assumed leadership in 1914. He published his first five poetry manuscripts, including The Dominant City (Max Goschen) and Fire and Wine (Grant Richards), in 1913.

Fletcher went on to publish numerous poetry collections, including South Star (Macmillan, 1941), The Black Rock (Macmillan, 1928), Goblins and Pagodas (Houghton Mifflin, 1916), and Irradiations: Sand and Spray (Houghton Mifflin, 1915). He was also the author of an autobiography, Life Is My Song (Farrar & Rinehart, 1937), and a history of his native state, Arkansas (University of North Carolina Press, 1947).

Fletcher returned to Arkansas in 1933. In 1938 he became the first Southern poet to win the Pulitzer Prize, for Selected Poems (Farrar & Rinehart, 1938). He died near his country home in Little Rock, Arkansas, on May 10, 1950.

Selected Bibliography

Selected Poems (The University of Arkansas Press, 1988)
The Burning Mountain (E. P. Dutton, 1946)
South Star (Macmillan, 1941)
Selected Poems (Farrar & Rinehart, 1938)
XXIV Elegies (Writer’s Editions, 1935)
The Black Rock (Macmillan, 1928)
Branches of Adam (Faber and Gwyer, 1926)
Parables (Kegan Paul, 1925)
Breakers and Granite (Macmillan, 1921)
The Tree of Life (Macmillan, 1918)
Japanese Prints (Four Seas,1918)
Goblins and Pagodas (Houghton Mifflin, 1916)
Irradiations: Sand and Spray (Houghton Mifflin, 1915)
Visions of the Evening (Erskine MacDonald, 1913)
Fool’s Gold (Max Goschen, 1913)
Fire and Wine (Grant Richards, 1913)
The Dominant City (Max Goschen, 1913)
The Book of Nature (Constable & Co., 1913)

Life Is My Song: The Autobiography of John Gould Fletcher (Farrar & Rinehart, 1937)
Arkansas (University of North Carolina Press, 1947)

John Gould Fletcher
Photo Credit: UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture

By This Poet


In the City of Night

(To the Memory of Edgar Allan Poe)

City of night,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of twilight,
City that projects into the west,
City whose columns rest upon the sunset, city of square, threatening 
    masses blocking out the light:
City of twilight,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of midnight, city that the full moon overflows, city where the cats 
    prowl and the closed iron dust-carts go rattling through the shadows:
City of midnight,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of early morning, cool fresh-sprinkled city, city whose sharp roof 
    peaks are splintered against the stars, city that unbars tall haggard 
    gates in pity,
City of midnight,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of rain, city where the bleak wind batters the hard drops once and again, 
    sousing a shivering, cursing beggar who clings amid the stiff Apostles on the 
    cathedral portico;
City where the glare is dull and lowering, city where the clouds flare and flicker 
    as they pass upwards, where sputtering lamps stare into the muddy pools 
    beneath them;
City where the winds shriek up the streets and tear into the squares, city whose 
    cobbles quiver and whose pinnacles waver before the buzzing chatter of raindrops 
    in their flight;
City of midnight,
Drench me with your rain of sorrow.

City of vermilion curtains, city whose windows drip with crimson, tawdry, tinselled, 
    sensual city, throw me pitilessly into your crowds.
City filled with women's faces leering at the passers by,
City with doorways always open, city of silks and swishing laces, city where bands 
    bray dance-music all night in the plaza,
City where the overscented light hangs tepidly, stabbed with jabber of the crowd, 
    city where the stars stare coldly, falsely smiling through the smoke-filled air,
City of midnight,
Smite me with your despair.

City of emptiness, city of the white façades, city where one lonely dangling lantern 
    wavers aloft like a taper before a marble sarcophagus, frightening away the ghosts;
City where a single white-lit window in a motionless blackened house-front swallows 
    the hosts of darkness that stream down the street towards it;
City above whose dark tree-tangled park emerges suddenly, unlit, uncannily, a grey 
    ghostly tower whose base is lost in the fog, and whose summit has no end.
City of midnight,
Bury me in your silence.

City of night,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of restlessness, city where I have tramped and wandered,
City where the herded crowds glance at me suspiciously, city where the churches are 
    locked, the shops unopened, the houses without hospitality,
City of restlessness,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of sleeplessness, city of cheap airless rooms, where in the gloom are heard snores 
    through the partition, lovers that struggle, couples that squabble, cabs that rattle, 
    cats that squall,
City of sleeplessness,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

City of feverish dreams, city that is being besieged by all the demons of darkness, city of 
    innumerable shadowy vaults and towers, city where passion flowers desperately and 
    treachery ends in death the strong:
City of night,
Wrap me in your folds of shadow.

The Swan

Under a wall of bronze,
Where beeches dip and trail
Their branches in the water;
With red-tipped head and wings—
A beaked ship under sail—
There glides a single swan.

Under the autumn trees
He goes. The branches quiver,
Dance in the wraith-like water,
Which ripples beneath the sedge
With the slackening furrow that glides
In his wake when he is gone:
The beeches bow dark heads.

Into the windless dusk,
Where in mist great towers stand
Guarding a lonely strand,
That is bodiless and dim,
He speeds with easy stride;
And I would go beside,
Till the low brown hills divide
At last, for me and him.

The Skaters

Black swallows swooping or gliding
In a flurry of entangled loops and curves;
The skaters skim over the frozen river.
And the grinding click of their skates as they impinge upon the surface,
Is like the brushing together of thin wing-tips of silver.