Elinor (Hoyt) Wylie was born September 7, 1885, in Somerville,
New Jersey, but she was, she often protested, of pure
Pennsylvania stock. Her girlhood was spent in Washington; the
family was a literary one, and it was soon evident that Elinor,
the first born, was a prodigy. The facts of her life, if not the
personal sufferings, have been recorded by Nancy Hoyt, her
youngest sister, in Elinor Wylie: The Portrait of an Unknown
It was in England that her first work was published, a tiny book of forty-three pages entitled Incidental Numbers (1912), privately printed and unsigned. It is a tentative collection and she was so sensitive about its "incredible immaturity" that she pleaded with the few who knew of its existence never to refer to-it until after her death. Much of it is immature, since most of it was written in her early twenties and some of it in her teens. Yet her characteristic touch - the firm thought matched by the firmly molded line - is already suggested.
She returned to America in 1916, and lived in Boston and Maine. Her poems began to appear in the magazines; she moved to Wash- ington. In 1921 her first "real" volume, Nets to Catch the Wind, appeared. It was an instant success. Three years later she was a famous person, the author of two volumes of poems and an extraordinary first novel (Jennifer Lorn), married to William Rose Benet, and part of the literary life of New York. Nets to Catch the Wind impresses immediately because of its brilliance. The brilliance is one which, at first, seems to sparkle without burning. But if the poet seldom allows her verses to grow agitated, she never permits them to remain dull. As a technician, she is always admirable; in "August" the sense of heat is conveyed by tropic luxuriance and contrast; in " The Eagle and the Mole " she lifts moralizing to a proud level. Her auditory effects are scarcely less remarkable; no poem has ever suggested the white silence of snow so effectively as "Velvet Shoes."
Black Armour (1923) exhibits Mrs. Wylie's keenness against a mellower background. The intellect has grown more fiery, the mood has grown warmer, and the craftsmanship is more dazzling than ever. Trivial Breath (1928) is the work of a poet in transition. At times the craftsman is uppermost, at times the creative gemus. Angels and Earthly Creatures (1929) is the very peak of her poetry; a physical beauty and spiritual intensity lift this work above anything the poet had previously written. The whole book is a kind of valedictory, sad and noble. The poet seemed to have a premonition of death; on December 15, 1928, she put her final book together, affixed the motto on the title page, and prepared the last detail for the printer. She died the following day.
A sumptuous Collected Poems of Elinor Wylie (1932) was followed by Collected Prose of Elinor Wylie (1933), which contains her novels as well as her short stories. But it is as a poet that she excelled, and it is as a poet that she will be remembered.