Speyer, Leonora (1872–1956)

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Speyer, Leonora (1872–1956)

American poet and violinist. Born Leonora Von Stosch in Washington, D.C., on November 7, 1872; died in New York City on February 10, 1956; daughter of Count Ferdinand Von Stosch and Julia (Thompson) Von Stosch; married in 1893 (divorced); married Edgar Speyer (a banker), in 1902; children: (first marriage) four daughters, Enid (who married Robert Hewitt); Pamela (who married Count Hugo Moy); Leonora Speyer (d. 1987, who lived with Maria Donska ); and Vivien.

Concert violinist with Boston Symphony Orchestra (1890); won Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Fiddler's Farewell (1927); taught poetry at Columbia University in New York City.

Leonora Speyer played the violin from the time her "chin was firm enough to hold it." She began her career as a concert violinist at the age of 17 playing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1890, and appeared later with the New York Philharmonic. When a severe bout of neuritis stopped her from playing, her friend Amy Lowell awakened her interest in the Imagist poets, and she started writing poetry herself. Her love of writing poetry overwhelmed her interest in playing the violin. "Having played the violin since my early youth," she said, "it seemed but another expression, perhaps a more subtle one, of the same art to find myself writing, studying, deep in the metrics of musical words." Harriet Monroe and Robert Bridges were responsible for first getting her work published, and her writings, nearly all lyrics or ballads, frequently appeared in various publications.

Speyer lived abroad for a time in London and Paris, but returned in 1915 to settle in New York City. In 1927 she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her book Fiddler's Farewell. Published in 1926, it was especially noted for its wit and understanding of the feminine character. Other works include A Canopic Jar (1921), Naked Heel (1931), and Slow Wall: New and Selected Poems (1939), which appeared in a larger edition, The Slow Wall: Poems together with Nor Without Music, in 1946.

Near the end of her life, Speyer taught poetry at Columbia University. "There is no teaching a student to acquire talent," she said; "no amount of study may contrive a gift. That is God's affair. But the actual process of poetry—writing, the color and harmony of words, can be, surely must be learned. The instrument must be mastered like any other instrument."


Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Malinda Mayer , writer and editor, Falmouth, Massachusetts