Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Arthur Davison Ficke


Carl Van Vechten Photograph -- 1940
Library of Congress

Arthur Davison Ficke was born in Davenport, Iowa. His father, Charles August Ficke, was a prominent lawyer and his mother a longtime member of the Davenport Public Library school board. They were active in the Unitarian Church which Ficke attended as a young boy. During his childhood there were frequent travels to Europe and the Orient with his family. Ficke attended Davenport High School, and first published his poetry in the high school newspaper which he served as literary editor. In 1900 he entered Harvard where he studied with William James and George Santayana and wrote for a Harvard literary magazine. It was at Harvard that Ficke met Witter Bynner, who would become a lifelong friend, and figure prominently in a literary hoax involving the Imagist poets the two men would engineer.

After graduation from Harvard, Ficke traveled with his family and then undertook two years of legal study at the University of Iowa (1906-1907) where he also taught in the English department. After his graduation he joined his father's law firm and in 1907 married Evelyn B. Blunt and published his first book, From the Isles (1907).

Ficke's travel's were curtailed by the war as he entered Army service in 1917 and served as a captain in France. In 1918 he met the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and they would remain close friends for the rest of his life. Millay was clearly in love with Ficke, but it was poetry and friendship that would sustain them over the years.

Ficke received an Army assignment as a Judge Advocate in Paris where he continued his efforts to collect Japanese prints, an interest which is reflected in his poetry. A second trip to Japan was made in 1920.

After the war, Ficke decided to give up the practice of law. He divorced his wife in 1922, but remarried in December, 1923 to Gladys Brown, a painter and took up residence in New York City. In 1925 Ficke was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was treated at Saranac Lake, New York. He then moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico where he lived until 1928 when he and his wife acquired a home in Hillsdale, New York.

In the 1930s Ficke would undergo further treatment for tuberculosis, but he continued to travel and to write, and work with Millay on her poetry. In 1940 Ficke began a series of lectures on Japanese art in New York, but the lecture series was canceled in 1941 because of the impending war. Ficke learned in 1943 that he had throat cancer; he died in Hudson, New York on November 30, 1945.

Ficke corresponded with various literary figures, including the attorney-poet, Edgar Lee Masters, who he began writing in 1915. The correspondence continued until Ficke's death in 1945. [For more on Ficke's relationship with Edna St. Vincent Millay, see "Edna St. Vincent Millay," in Jean Gould, American Women Poets: Pioneers of Modern Poetry 207-270 (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1980)]

Arthur Ficke
The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa

Arthur Ficke

Arthur Davidson Ficke
Poetry Foundation

Arthur Davidson Ficke

Twins in My Cradle: Arthur Davison Ficke, Iowa Poet

Arthur Davison Ficke and Japan


Katherine Anne Porter and Ficke


[Meeting] [In This Hour] [Opus 67] [Serenade in Firelight] [Among Shadows] [Portrait of an Old Woman] [The Three Sisters] [Like Him Whose Spirits] [I am Weary of Being Bitter] [From "Sonnets of a Portrait Painter"] [The Three Sisters] [The Three Sisters] ["I am in Love with High Far-Seeing Places"] [Sonnet] [ Now Jewelled, Alight, You Lead the Midnight Dances] [ Your Beauty is as Timeless as the Earth]


Arthur Davison Ficke, The Happy Princess and Other Poems (Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1907) [online text]

_______________, From the Isles: A Series of Songs Out of Greece (Norwich, England: Samurai Press, 1907) [online text]

_______________, The Earth Passion, Boundary & Other Poems (Cranleigh, Surrey, England: Samurai Press, 1908)

________________, The Breaking of Bonds: A Drama of the Social Unrest (Boston: Sherman, French & Company, 1910) [online text]

________________, Twelve Japanese Painters (Chicago: Alderbrink Press, 1913)(illustrated by Frederick W. Gookin) [online text]

________________, Sonnets of a Portrait-Painter (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1914) [online text]

___________________, Sonnets of a Portrait-Painter, and Other Sonnets (New York: M. Kennerley, 1922) [online text]

_________________, Sonnets of a Portrait-Painter; Together With Two Other Sonnet Sequences (Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Co., 1925)

________________, The Man on the Hilltop and Other Poems (New York: M. Kennerley, 1915) [online text]

Witter Bynner & Arthur Davidson Ficke, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1916) [pseuds. Anne Knish and Emanuel Morgan, names assumed by Bynner & Ficke in their hoax on fellow poets and literary critics, by way of invention of a new school of poetry] [online text]

________________, An April Elegy (New York: M. Kennerley, 1917) [online text]

________________, Out of Silence & Other Poems (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1924)

________________, Selected Poems: With a Preface on the Nature of Poetry (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1926)(New York: Doubleday/ Doran, 1938)

________________, Christ in China: A Poem (Moline, Illinois, 1927)

________________, Mountain Against Mountain (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1929)

________________, The Road to the Mountain: A Lyrical Pageant in Three Acts ([n.p.], 1930)

________________, The Secret and Other Poems (New York: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1936)

________________, Tumultuous Shore, and Other Poems (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1942)


Arthur Davison Ficke, The Mirror of the East (Davenport, Iowa: Contemporary Club, 1911) [online text]

_______________, Mr. Faust (New York: M. Kennerley, 1913)(New York: Frank Shay, 1922) [online text]

________________, Chats on Japanese Prints (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1915)(London: T.F. Unwin, 1915)(T.F. Unwin, 1917)(London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1922)(London: Ernest Benn, Limited, 1928)(Rutland, Vermont: C.E. Tuttle Co. 1958)

________________, Mrs. Morton of Mexico (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1939)(novel)

________________, The Ghost of Sharaku (San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1951)


William Jay Smith, The Spectra Hoax (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1961)(Ashland, Oregon: Story Line Press, 2nd ed., 2000)(literary hoax in 1916 involving Ficke and Witter Bynner in which they invented two poets, Anne Knish and Emanuel Morgan, and a new school of poetry called the Spectrists, publishing the work under the title, Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1916).

Research Resources

Arthur Davison Ficke Papers
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

Papers of Arthur Davison Ficke Manuscripts
Special Collections, University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa

Arthur Davidson Ficke Papers
Newberry Library
Chicago, Illinois

Arthur Davison Ficke Papers concerning Donald Evans
Houghton Library
Harvard University