Samuel Greenberg: American Poet
the poet seeks an earth in himself

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Self portrait, 1915

I've been ill amongst my fellow kind
And yet have borne with me joys
That few sought its indulgence Bind
As dreams that press meditation's
Wanton coys, o'er desired revelation
Religeon's chariot halted for my thought
Art bowed, showed its infinite tongues
Of charm, science hailed its width
Of semetry, doubting conscience
Concentration, and behave, The beam
Of Fire from the sun cast mine own
To slumber in imagination of spheres
Under the heavens of moon like shapes
Mine eyelids shut, I fell into unfelt realms

"Enigmas", from Greenberg's Sonnets of Apology

Samuel Greenberg died of tuberculosis in 1917, at age 23. His childhood was spent in poverty on the Lower East Side of New York City. After leaving school at 14 to begin working, he became ill and spent his final years as a patient in several charity hospitals, where he did most of his writing. (For an overview of his life, see the time line. For details about his connection to Hart Crane, see the Crane page.)


Index: Navigating this Site


Bio Read a biographical sketch, a time line of Greenberg's life, and the full
text of Greenberg's autobiographical essay "Between Historical Life".
Works Explore a selection of more than 100 poems and other works.
Praise Find out what a few other poets and writers think of Greenberg's work.
Images View a photo of Greenberg and facsimiles of two handwritten poems.
City Look at maps showing views of the Lower East Side and other areas
that were important in Greenberg's life.
Crane Learn about the connection between Greenberg and Hart Crane, and
examine a comparison of Crane's "Emblems of Conduct" to lines
from several of Greenberg's poems.
Reading Peruse an annotated list of works to consult for more information.
Links Follow links to related Web sites.
E-mail Send comments or questions to the site editor.




 

Critical Praise

Sam Greenberg was crazy about words, crazy about their sounds and shapes and the magical life of association which they have unto themselves as words. This boy was drunk on words and he poured them forth with a wild, chaotic passion.

James Laughlin, 1939

 

If you haven't read the poems I recommend them highly. He was certainly one of the finest poetic characters I know anything about, and [his] phrases are magnificent -- and no critic has ever apparently appreciated either at their real value.

Elizabeth Bishop, in a 1950 letter to Robert Lowell

 

Long before surrealism became a movement, Greenberg was hypnotizing himself with words in orgies of supersensibility. He did not live long enough to exploit, or even to explore, the borderlands of the subconscious, but he seemed to dwell in a state between incoherence and eloquence, between sheer hallucination and pure vision.

Louis Untermeyer, 1940

 

Although he published nothing in his lifetime, and has since been the victim of near-total critical neglect, Samuel Bernard Greenberg was the most original and most ravishing poet in the English language in the first decades of this century. . . . Out of the ragbag of his hermetic vagabondage, [he] drew one unheard-of extravagance after another. . . . He steered his own course as freely and implacably as Blake and Emily Dickinson and Lautréamont . . . Here is poetry defiantly alive with youth, exuberance, humor, revolt, and delirious love. . . . Never before had words and images enjoyed such exhilarating freedom as they did in the cheap grammar-school pencil tablets of this wayward invalid youngster.

Franklin Rosemont, 1989

 

This poet, Greenberg, . . . was a Rimbaud in embryo. . . . No grammar, no spelling, and scarcely any form, but a quality that is unspeakably eerie and the most convincing gusto. One little poem is as good as any of the consciously conceived "Pierrots" of Laforgue.

Hart Crane, 1923

 

Poetry of the twentieth century in the United States could not be complete without the publication of the poems of Samuel Greenberg.

Allen Tate, 1947



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