A Legacy Stretching More
Than 100 Years
Literary gatherings have long been a part of the Smith
culture, and the college continues to celebrate the legacy of poet Sylvia Plath,
who graduated from Smith in 1955. In addition to Plath, however, a long and distinguished
procession of poets has trod the paths of the Smith campus over the years.
poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold reads his poems in an assembly hall in
- William Butler Yeats visits in 1903.
- In 1916, Robert Frost makes his first trip to campus. He is a frequent visitor
until 1961. He tells his students that “The Road Not Taken” was written
at Smith while he was a guest of President William Allan Neilson.
- The 1930s see visits from Archibald MacLeish and T.S. Eliot.
- W. H. Auden first comes to Smith in 1940, and in 1953 he holds a semester’s
Neilson professorship, inspiring the undergraduate Plath with his “burlap-textured
voice and crackling brilliant utterances.” In a lighter vein, that year Auden
also participates in the faculty show, rising from a rocking chair to sing dramatically
and sarcastically, “Books may seem quite nice, but they are full of vice.”
- Paul Roche, noted English poet in the Bloomsbury Group, teaches for two years
in the late 1950s and befriends Plath, who is also teaching at Smith at the time.
- Richard Wilbur, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and second poet laureate of
the United States, is a poet-in-residence on the Smith campus from 1977 to 1986
and still retains the title of poet emeritus.
- In recent years the Grace Hazard Conkling Fund has underwritten the annual presence
at Smith of a nationally known poet as a writer-in-residence. Among those who have
been on campus under the auspices of this program are Elizabeth Alexander, who
also served the first director of the poetry center during her two-year stint at
Smith; Amy Clampitt; Jack Gilbert; Eleanor Wilner; Henri Cole; Daisy Fried; and,
currently, Nikky Finney.