Tietjens, Eunice (Hammond)
TIETJENS, Eunice (Hammond)
Born 29 July 1884, Chicago, Illinois; died 6 September 1944, xChicago, Illinois
Also wrote under: E. H., Eloise Briton, Guy Trevor MacKenzie, Frances Trevor
Daughter of William A. and Idea Strong Hammond; married Paul Tietjens, 1904; Cloyd Head, 1920; children: two daughters and one son
"Born under a wandering star," Eunice Tietjens lived on Chicago's suburban North Shore until her banker father drowned in 1897. She and three younger siblings were schooled in Geneva, Dresden, and Paris, where her mother was an exhibiting painter. Tietjens married a composer and bore two daughters, burying one before she returned alone to Chicago in 1909.
Tietjens established her financial independence by writing pseudonymous serials. In 1912 she experienced an aesthetic "birth," and, encouraged by friends in the Chicago literary movement, she turned to poetry and began her 25-year association with Harriet Monroe's Poetry. Tietjens became assistant editor of the literary journal in 1915.
In 1917 Tietjens published the first of her four volumes of poetry. She spent 1917 and 1918 in Paris, as the Chicago DailyNews ' first woman war correspondent. After the war, she remarried, bore a son, and became active in Chicago's major literary clubs. Travels in China and Japan, three winters in Tunisia, and a year in the South Seas confirmed Tietjens' fascination with non-Western cultures. She wrote an unsuccessful play, Arabesque, with her husband in 1925 and edited a successful Oriental anthology. After 1929 she wrote mostly children's travel books. When her husband Cloyd Head joined the Miami Players in 1934, Tietjens taught college there, wrote her autobiography, became involved in Pan-American affairs, and worked on an epic poem about the Caribbean.
During her lifetime, Tietjens was best known for her earliest poems, collected in Body and Raiment (1919). "Proem: A Plaint of Complexity," a finely wrought catalogue of her "too many selves," implicitly acknowledges the biographical basis for her successes, reflected in several notoriously sensuous lyrics and occasional poems to famous contemporaries.
Among this youthful collection's best poems, "The Great Man" is the first example of Tietjens' mastery of free verse, while "The Drug Clerk" and "The Steam Shovel" introduce contemporary, sociological subject matter. Most of the poems, however, rely on regular rhymes and conventional forms and emotions, which often undermine Tietjens's psychological insights and sensory perceptions. Thus in her frequently anthologized poem "A Bacchante to her Babe," trivial rhymes reduce mythic eroticism and powerful images of birth to a harmlessly playful song of maternal joy.
Such weaknesses do not mar Tietjens' most consistent volume of poetry, Profiles from China (1917). Written after most poems in Body and Raiment, these free verse sketches are rooted in a complex cross-cultural perspective with perceptual and emotional power. In "The Cormorants," for instance, her painterly skill focuses unblinkingly on an Oriental scene her Western mind finds revolting: the semistarved slavery of fishing birds whose string collars prevent them from swallowing the catches their "lousy lords" require.
Characteristic of Tietjens' work are the uncensored sensory details of fermenting toilet pots in "Spring," the troublesome shadow of brutality underlying exotic mystery in "The Hand," and her condemnation in "My Servant" of the inhumanity of praising as "golden lilies" thumping, bound feet. But only "The City Wall" and "The Most-Sacred Mountain" were often anthologized. Pressing squalor is muted by references to the European middle ages and countered by distant beauty in the former, while memorable lines with clear, open tones fully realize the pure "white windy presence of eternity" in the latter, her most admired poem.
Profiles from Home (1925), which Tietjens wrote at a distance from her subjects and on the self-derivative model of her free verse Chinese "profiles," lacks both sensory immediacy and personal response. These qualities appear frequently, however, in Leaves in Windy Weather (1929)—for instance, in the burnished, tactile images of "Old Friendship" and the sibilant, sizzling burst of primitive passion in "Fire."
This final, miscellaneous volume of Tietjens' poetry also includes her best poetic narratives. "From the Mountains," a sonnet sequence that her family had suppressed in 1915, plots a brief, parabolic love affair. "The Man Who Loved Mary" is the best of several dramatic narratives. For her personal prose, as well as her poetry, however, the vignette—with its sharply etched description and compressed emotional force—was Tietjens' best form. Her novel Jake (1921) relies more on lyric description than narrative development, and her 1938 autobiography is loosely episodic.
Tietjens' contemporaries accurately identified painterly perception, not formal technique, as the most dependable quality of her literary oeuvre. Clichéd closing lines often mar promising poems, although her best poems exhibit an emotionally direct poetic voice that responds honestly to even the most complex experiences.
Japan, Korea, and Formosa (edited by B. Holmes, 1924). Boy of the Desert (1928). Poetry of the Orient (edited by Tietjens, 1928). The Romance of Antar (translated by Tietjens, 1929). China (with L. S. Hammond; edited by B. Holmes, 1930). The Jaw-Breaker's Alphabet (with J. Tietjens, 1930). Boy of the South Seas (1931). Manga Reva, the Forgotten Island (with R. L. Eskridge, 1931). The Gingerbread Boy (1932). The World at My Shoulder (1938). An Adventure in Friendship (edited by Tietjens, 1941).
The Eunice Tietjens Papers are housed in the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois.
Love, W. N. S., "Eunice Tietjens: A Biographical and Critical Study" (dissertation, 1960).
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
Bookman (Aug. 1925, April 1929). Masses (Aug. 1917). NYHTB (6 Oct. 1929). NYT (19 Oct. 1919). Poetry (Sept. 1917, Oct. 1917, Feb. 1920, July 1925, Sept. 1938). SR (7 Oct. 1944).
—SIDNEY H. BREMER