Born 9 September 1878, Brooklyn, New York;
died 8 October 1914, Rochester, New York Daughter of Algernon S. and Adelaide Trowbridge Crapsey
Adelaide Crapsey was taken to Rochester in 1879 when her father became rector of St. Andrew's Church. In 1893 Crapsey and her sister Emily were sent to Kemper Hall, an Episcopal boarding school in Kenosha, Wisconsin. After graduation from Vassar in 1901, Crapsey spent one year at home in Rochester and then returned to Kemper Hall to teach history and literature. Around 1903 Crapsey first began to suffer from the fatigue caused by tuberculosis, the disease that would eventually take her life at the age of thirty-six. From 1906 to 1908 she served as instructor of literature and history at a preparatory school in Stamford, Connecticut. Failing health caused Crapsey to give up teaching, however, and in December 1908 she went to Europe, living in Rome, London, and Kent. In London Crapsey continued her work on the "application of phonetics to metrical problems." In 1911 she returned to America and began work immediately as an instructor in poetics at Smith College. From September 1913 to August 1914 Crapsey underwent treatment for her tuberculosis in a private nursing home at Saranac Lake, New York. After returning to her family's home in Rochester she suddenly grew worse and died.
Crapsey had long been experimenting with poetic forms. She filled her commonplace book with poems by W. S. Landor, T. L. Beddoes, Oscar Wilde, and Lionel Johnson. Many of her poems show the influence of these and earlier poets, even as they exhibit her own reticence, humor, and interest in experiments in sound and form. Although her consciousness of contemporary poetic and artistic developments is important, it is also essential to recognize the role of Crapsey's own informed craftsmanship and studies in metrics in shaping her poetry, which shows affinities with the Georgian and Imagist movements.
The cinquain, a five-line poetic form invented and named by Crapsey, is "built on stresses, one for the first line, two for the second, three for the third, four for the fourth, with a drop back to one for the fifth line. In the poet's opinion this made the most condensed metrical form in English that would hold together as a complete unit." Although the cinquain is built of stresses rather than syllables, it resembles such Japanese forms as the haiku and tanka in its brevity and in its juxtaposition of images. Crapsey's finest cinquains, including "Amaze," "Niagara," "Roma Aeterna," and "Snow," involve a superposition of ideas or intersection between the eternal and the momentary, the motionless and the moving. These qualities, and the distinctive compression of Crapsey's best work, have led Louis Untermeyer to describe her as an "unconscious Imagist" and Yvor Winters to state she "achieves more effectively than did most of the Imagists the aims of Imagism."
Crapsey's unfinished work on prosody, on which she worked so hard while in England and at Smith, was published after her death with a preface by Esther Lowenthal. A Study in English Metrics (1918) divides English poets into three classes according to the proportions of monosyllabic, dissyllabic, and polysyllabic words used.
The reticence and firm control characteristic of her finest poems marked Crapsey's own conduct. Her letters to her family and friends provide a rare opportunity to study a person always private and elusive, although never reclusive or withdrawn until her health had been seriously impaired. Her letters from Saranac Lake show her fighting bravely and humorously what she herself knew to be a losing battle; "vital, vivid, and detailed," they "seldom fail to convey an extremely alert intelligence and a sensitivity to what she perceived was going on in the intellectual world."
Verse (1915). The Last of the Heretics (1924). The Complete Poems and Collected Letters of Adelaide Crapsey (edited by S. S. Smith, 1977).
Bragdon, C., Merely Players (1929). Bragdon, C., More Lives Than One (1938). Fletcher, I., "Adelaide Crapsey's Cinquains," in Adam: International Review (1970). Fraser, G. S., "Two Rochester Muses," in Adam: International Review (1970). Kawanami, H., "A. Crapsey and Michel Revon: Their Connection with Japanese Literature," in University of Osaka College of Commerce Festschrift (n.d.). O'Connor, M. E., "Adelaide Crapsey: A Biographical Study" (thesis, 1931). Osborn, M. E., AdelaideCrapsey (1933). Smith, S. S., The Complete Poems and Collected Letters of Adelaide Crapsey (1977). Winters, Y., Forms of Discovery (1967). Winters, Y., In Defense of Reason (1947).
TLS (5 May 1978). Vassar Miscellany (1915).
—SUSAN SUTTON SMITH