Poet Biographies

Trumbull Stickney: The Tragic Life of a Poetic Talent

Trumbull Stickney, was an American poet of the late 19th century, whose life was tragically cut short. He left his mark on the literary world, exploring the themes of love and mortality.

Trumbull Stickney Portrait

The story of Trumbull Stickney was a tragic one and has left its mark on the literary world. Many consider him to be a great poet that was never able to reach his potential. Despite dying at a young age, Stickney was prolific nonetheless, publishing a number of works that live on to this day. He was heavily inspired by traditional, classic literature, and this was seen in the themes and topics that he addressed in his poetry. Latin and Greek influences can be seen throughout his verse.

Early Life

Trumbull Stickney was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in June of 1874. He was part of an affluent family which was able to provide him with the best schooling and an impressive genealogical lineage. His father, Austin, was a professor, and his mother came from a well-established family.

During the early years of his life, Trumbull spent time traveling throughout Europe and America, visiting Wiesbaden, Florence, Nice, London, and eventually New York. He studied for a time at the Cutler School in New York, a preparatory school for boys. It was his father, though, who was responsible for the bulk of his education. 


As a young man, Stickney continued his schooling in America, where he attended Harvard University. He was an excellent student and, throughout school, managed to publish his poetry in a number of different college journals. Stickney’s circle of friends was intensely literary. He grew close to writers George Cabot Lodge and William Vaughn Moody, as well as various others with whom he contributed to the Harvard Monthly. Stickney may have been an impressive student, but he did not feel happy within the walls of the university. Stickney graduated from Harvard University (magna cum laude) in June 1895.

Regardless of his opinion of student life, of studies did not end at Harvard; he continued on to study at Sorbonne, in Paris, France, in 1895. Here he was forced to contend with his divided interests, between his literary passions, as evident in his thesis regarding the letters of Ermolao Barbaro, 15th-century ambassador of Rome, and his love of Greek culture, from which he wrote a second thesis. His second thesis was centered around the aphorisms in Greek verse. While working on his two theses, Stickney continued to write poetry. He finished the long poem ‘Kalypso.’ This work was not published until 1901 due to the fact that he did not value that which he had created.  His love for Greek culture and history led him to take a brief trip to Greece as a sabbatical.

Later Career and Death 

In 1903, Stickney graduated from Sorbonne, earning him the first Sorbonne Doctorat ès Lettres to be won by an American student. After his education, he entered a career as an instructor at Harvard. He did not feel suited for this life either, and to add to his unhappiness, his poetic work was not progressing to his satisfaction.

Between April and June of 1903, he would take time out and travel to Greece, a place where he found great inspiration. On top of all of this, he was experiencing dramatic “blind spells,” horrible headaches, and partial blindness, all while continuing to teach and write. These headaches would culminate in a brain tumor which cost him his life on 11th October 1904 in Boston.

After his death, college friends William Vaughn Moody and George Cabot Lodge went on to edit a collection of Stickney’s verse. Today, Stickney is likened to poets such as Conrad Aiken and W.H. Auden. His work has served as inspiration for T.S. Eliot and the founder of imagism, Ezra Pound.


What is Trumbull Stickney famous for?

Trumbull Stickney is tragically known for being a young, up-and-coming poet and scholar who had bags of potential but lost his life at a young age. Trumbull Stickney’s poems included works such as ‘Eros and Psyche,‘ ‘The Unknown Eros,’ and ‘Leave Him Now Quiet By The Way.’

What was Trumbull Stickney’s most famous work?

Although Trumbull Stickney only had a short career, due to his early death, he was still prolific and created some timeless poetry. Arguably his best work is the large poem ‘Kalypso,’ a work inspired heavily by Greece. The poem was published in ‘Dramatic Verses,’ in 1902.

What was Trumbull Stickney’s poetry style?

Trumbull Stickney’s poetry style can be considered to be traditional and classical, as he took great inspiration from classical works from ancient cultures, such as Latin and Greek. He also aligned himself with traditional poetic forms, such as sonnets and elegies.

Was Trumbull Stickney American?

Yes, Trumbull Stickney’s nationality was American. However, he was born in Switzerland in Geneva and traveled a lot during his upbringing. He went to places such as Wiesbaden, Florence, Nice, London, and eventually New York.

How did Trumbull Stickney die?

The story of Trumbull Stickney’s death is a tragic one, as at such a young age, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor after getting painful headaches and partial blindness. It was on October 11th, 1904, in Boston, only the next year, after graduating from Sorbonne, that he succumbed to the tumor and passed away. Much of Stickney’s modern fame comes from the tragedy of his story, as he promised so much in the literary world.

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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