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

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Biographical Sketch

[Image: Greenberg self portrait]

Samuel Greenberg died of tuberculosis in a hospital on Wards Island in 1917, when he was only 23. His childhood was spent living in poverty on the Lower East Side of New York City. After leaving school at 14 to begin working to help support his family, he became ill, and spent his final years in and out of charity hospitals (in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Queens), where he did most of his writing.

The time line below provides an overview of Greenberg's life. For a more detailed picture, see Marc Simon's Samuel Greenberg, Hart Crane, and the Lost Manuscripts, the main source for the information in the time line.

You'll also want to read Greenberg's autobiographical essay "Between Historical Life".


Time Line


Dec. 13, 1893
  • Born in Vienna, sixth of eight children. (November 3 another possible birth date.)
c. 1900-1901
  • Father, Jacob, leaves for New York. Later, perhaps on October 9, 1900, mother, Hannah, and children arrive aboard steamer Lake Ontario.
  • Settles with family on Lower East Side of Manhattan, in apartment on corner of Suffolk and Grand.
c. 1900-1905
  • Attends Public School 160, corner of Suffolk and Rivington.
  • Goes to Hebrew school, a cheder; learns to read Hebrew.
c. 1907
  • Celebrates bar mitzvah. [Image: bar mitzvah photo]

Young Adulthood

c. 1908
  • Leaves school to begin working.
Feb. 19, 1908
  • Mother, Hannah, dies after a long illness or series of illnesses.
c. 1908-1910
  • Assists father in embroidering gold and silver brocade, including mantles for ark of Torah scrolls.
c. 1909-1910
  • Lives with eldest brother Daniel.
c. 1910
  • Begins to draw seriously, first by copying postcards.
mid 1910
  • Begins to work at brother Adolf's leather-bag manufacturing shop on Chambers Street. Works there straight through for over a year and a half; continues to work there when he is well enough.
c. 1910-1911
  • Still living with Daniel.


c. 1911-1912
  • Begins living with another brother, Morris, possibly on Delancey Street.
April-Oct. 1912
  • Contracts pulmonary tuberculosis and is hospitalized for first time, possibly at Manhattan State Hospital on Wards Island in East River.
c. 1912
  • Begins keeping notebooks of prose and poetry, some original, some transcribed passages from other writers, including Arthur Hugh Clough and Lafcadio Hearn, whose writings are introduced to him by Morris's friend Frederick Rundbaken.
c. 1912-1913
  • Still living with Morris.
Jan. 13, 1913
  • Father, Jacob, dies.
late 1912/early 1913
  • Impresses visiting piano teacher (probably George Halprin, a friend of Morris) who overhears him playing parts of Chopin's Second Ballad.
  • Accepts offered piano lessons, but makes little progress due to "difficulty in focusing his attention" and inability "to grasp the more conscious mathematics involved". Piano teacher nevertheless remains impressed enough to mention him to friend, William Murrell Fisher.
  • Meets William Murrell Fisher, who is employed at Metropolitan Museum of Art; begins to borrow books from him, including works by Emerson and Carlyle, and an anthology of English verse.
c. 1913
  • Morris takes him to meet artist and master copyist Frances Keller in her studio on Park Avenue near 93rd.
  • Begins to study painting, taking evening lessons from Keller's daughter, Diane. Among the paintings he eventually produces is a copy (a Corot landscape) that James Laughlin later sees and judges "extremely expert".
May-June 1913
  • Hospitalized at Montefiore Home in Bronx.
  • Writes, or has already written, a number of early poems, possibly including "Alone," "Children", "Mendelssohn", "Her Soft Arms", "Persian House of Brick in the Desert", "Granulated", "Heard", "Eye Borrows Eye", "Swedenborg" and "I Held Her Hand", though these particular poems could be from a later period.
late Summer 1913
  • Lives with sister in Westerly, Rhode Island. Works around Stonington, Mystic, and Westerly with brother-in-law, selling piece goods from a horse and wagon.
c. Oct.-Nov. 1913
  • Morris takes him to Chopin concert at Carnegie Hall; meets virtuoso pianist Josef Hofman and presents him with his poem "The Pianoforte Artist".
Nov. 25, 1913
  • Writes poem "The 'East River's' Charm" after a visit to the Brooklyn Bridge with Daniel.
late 1913
  • Tubercular condition begins to reach an advanced state.
c. 1913-1914
  • Frequently reads at the Fifth Avenue Public Library.
  • Notebooks begin to reveal reading of Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Poe, Browning and Wilde.
  • Attends concerts, sometimes at old Metropolitan Opera House.
  • Transcribes into notebook passages about rhythm from Percy Goetschius's Material Use in Musical Composition, A System of Harmony.
  • Writes at least sixty-seven pages of poems, including the poems beginning "Where sweepest thou, this earth Jehovah!" and "The opponent Charm sustained".
  • Writes poem about Richard Strauss.
  • Painting instructor, Diane Keller, dies.

Final Years

March 1914
c. 1914
  • In and out of various hospitals.
  • Writes poem "The Street Lamp and the Eyelid".
  • Writes a group of poems under the title Sonnets from the Hebrew Temple.
March 1915
  • With Daniel and his wife.
March/April 1915
Spring-Summer 1915
  • With Morris in Paterson, New Jersey.
  • Spends several weeks at a health resort in Greenfield, New Jersey (between Atlantic City and Cape May); Daniel sells his own piano to pay for the stay.
Summer 1915
  • Tuberculosis advances in spite of rest and treatment; surgeon removes tubercular kidney.
July 1915
  • Taken to Sea View Hospital on Staten Island; remains there for a time, except when allowed home; still working when he can at the bag-manufacturing shop.
c. 1915
  • Begins to write some of the poems he will include in the notebook he inscribes Sonnets of Apology.
  • Writes poems "To Darwin", "The Pale Impromptu", and "An Asiatic Arabesque".
  • Writes a number of plays or play synopses, including "The Perplexed Lover", "The Wooing at the Cathedral", "Under the Gold Cave", "The Puritan Prince", "Morning Nymphs", "The Windmill Rendovo", "Stamp Upon Thy Stump", "The Hindu Romance", "The Knight of the Blue Scepters", "The Cloister in the Forest", "The Intellectual Pair", and "Ruins of Prince Qulachrim", most of them in a notebook he inscribes "The Composition Book".
January-May 1916
Spring-Summer 1916
  • Lives with Morris in Paterson
  • Makes a number of drawings and paintings; Morris exhibits some of them at a resort where he works as a musician.
  • Transcribes into notebook a second passage on rhythm from Goetschius.
Fall 1916
  • Becomes too ill to remain with Morris; returns to Sea View Hospital.
  • Drafts many of the poems that he will eventually fair copy and include in his notebook Sonnets of Apology.
  • Writes plays "Capablanka" and "Alma".
  • Composes outline, pencils draft, and eventually pens fair copy of his essay "Between Historical Life", later included in Holden and McManis's edition under the title "Autobiography".
Winter 1917
  • Writing slows considerably
Spring 1917
August 16, 1917
  • Dies in the evening.
August 19, 1917

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The banner quote at the top of the page ("the poet seeks an earth in himself") is from Greenberg's poem "Fred".