"Makers of Modern American Poetry - Women."
The Mentor 8:9 (June 15, 1920) Plate six.


Time was when the name of Ella Wheeler Wilcox signed to a poem, gave a host of curious readers an expectant thrill. She began her literary life with a sensation; she closed it in a vein of lofty poetic song. Her "Poems of Passion," published years ago, set thousands of people talking., This was when Mrs. Wilcox was a young girl and her venture into bold flights of poesy brought upon her a storm of criticism. At that time the young writer would not have been granted a place in the elect choir of American women poets, but much water has run under the bridge since the publication of Mrs. Wilcox's "Poems Of Passion," and, during the years, she has written verse that gives her rank among the poets of today. Judged simply by the extent of her public, she was almost unique in the field of modern American verse. With a wide newspaper popularity early in her career, she became, in the course of years, a favorite contributor to magazines that reached audiences of millions. Among these readers were many that knew little of poetry, and it was Mrs. Wilcox's distinction among women poets that she reached this vast body, touched its heart, and occasionally stirred it with inspiring strains.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox was born in Johnston Center, Wisconsin, in 1855 and was educated at the University of Wisconsin. She began to write poetry while a young girl and her first verses appeared in newspapers. In 1884 she married Robert M. Wilcox, a merchant of New York, and, for many years, she made her residence in that city. At the time of her death, in 1919, her home was "The Bungalow," Short Beach, Connecticut. She spent a number of months traveling among American army camps in France, giving "readings" before enthusiastic audiences of soldiers. The work was arduous and contributed to the collapse that resulted in her death.

During many years, verses flowed freely -- almost too easily, some said -- from Mrs. Wilcox's pen. She enjoyed popularity not only in the United States but in England. Her poems were gathered and published in volumes at different times -- more than twenty in number. Some years ago, that final sign-token of popular approval -- a Wilcox "Birthday Book" -- was issued, containing a selection of her poems.

Mrs. Wilcox's work calls for special consideration in any review of American women poets because she was a distinctive
type of writer, who did a kind of work that was peculiarly individual, and who reached an enormous public with her messages. For true poetic quality we look chiefly to the work of her later life. Her last book, 'Sonnets of Sorrow and Triumph," shows her at her best. Edward N. Teall, writing in The New York Sun, says: "The 'sonnet sequence' in good hands is very high art, and, less capably
managed, it can get pretty low. Ella Wheeler Wilcox's 'Sonnets of Sorrow' attain a lofty level -- the paradox is harmless -- in plumbing the depths of a heart's desire."

In this book the author gave eloquent expression to real, vital things. Critical readers have. for years, noted -- and sometimes with severity -- certain sentimental defects characteristic of Mrs. Wilcox's verse. She often assumed, in verse, the forlorn, heart-torn pose, and she, too frequently, flashed the showy phrase that caught the wind of the many, but "made the judicious grieve." But, in her later work -- and especially in the Sonnets of Sorrow and Triumph" -- she rose to a higher plane, and her lines display truly
noble feeling and fine  poetic phraseology.



Prepared by the Editorial Staff of The Mentor Association.
Illustration for The Mentor, Vol. 8, No. 9, Serial No. 205
Copyright 1920, By the Mentor Association, Inc.