WITTER BYNNER, poet, writer and scholar. Best remembered for his classic translation of The Way of Life, according to Lao Tzu (1944). Initially he pursued a career in journalism at McClure’s Magazine, Bynner then turned to writing. He was a charter member of the Poetry Society of America and was influential in getting the work of A.E. Housman and Ezra Pound published. In 1916 Bynner was one of the perpetrators of an elaborate literary hoax. It involved a purported ‘Spectrist’ school of poets. They published a book called “Spectra” that received accolades from Edgar Lee Masters and William Carlos Williams who were completely taken in by the ruse. Bynner meant it as a critique of the fashion of “ism” schools in poetry that were ruining poetry in his opinion. The incident, while successful, damaged his reputation in certain circles.
Bynner traveled to Japan and China and subsequently produced many translations from Chinese. His verse showed both Japanese and Chinese influences, but the latter were major. After a short time in academia (University of California, Berkeley), Bynner settled down in Santa Fe, in a relationship with Robert Hunt that would last for thirty-four years. Mabel Dodge Luhan, the doyenne of the intellectual community in Santa Fe & Taos at one point accused Bynner of “single-handedly introducing homosexuality into New Mexico.” Bynner and Hunt became fixtures in Santa Fe. On January 18, 1965, Bynner had a severe stroke. He never recovered, and required constant care until he died on June 1, 1968. His papers are archived in the New Mexico State University Library. His last words were reported to have been, “Other people die, why can’t I?”