Harold Trowbridge Pulsifer (1886-1948) was born in Manchester, Connecticut where his father owned a mill. Formative childhood experiences occurred at Houghton Farm in upper New York State, the summer home of his grandfather, Lawson Valentine. Personal relationships were formed with visitors such as artist Winslow Homer and theologian Lyman Abbott, editor of the Outlook, a weekly owned by Valentine. Early loyalties and passions formed at Houghton Farm – including his renowned love of trout fishing – remained dominant forces throughout his life.
Pulsifer began writing prose and verse in his adolescent years and attended the Pomfret School in eastern Connecticut to prepare for Harvard University. Long walks in the countryside developed his appreciation for and knowledge about the natural world. He wrote for and edited Pomfret’s school paper. The editors of the Outlook published his verses. He was unanimously named valedictorian of his graduating class.
At Harvard, Pulsifer succeeded in graduating but was not a stellar student. He benefited from President Eliot’s new system of electives, which permitted his many English courses to be combined with a wide array of others into a body of work acceptable to the faculty. He continued to be published in the Outlook and helped to edit the Harvard Advocate with classmate Conrad Aiken. He was elected Class Poet.
After graduation, Pulsifer dabbled in dairy farming for two years while being drawn by personal and family ties into the inner workings of The Outlook, which had become an influential public affairs journal with an esteemed editorial staff. In addition to Abbott and his sons, former President Theodore Roosevelt joined as a contributing editor in 1909 to further his progressive principles. Pulsifer joined the Outlook staff in 1913. One of his first contributions was a review of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poetry, which changed critical opinion about that poet’s work and helped bring about a revival of public interest in poetry. Ultimately conservative in his poetic tastes, Pulsifer was receptive to new poets breaking with tradition. He also contributed articles and editorials on timely issues, including calls for military preparedness during the approach of World War One. Pulsifer acquired the controlling interest in the Outlook in 1923. His reputation as a cordial and gracious editor grew among new generations of poets and writers. He formed the now-famous group, The Poets, who met regularly in Greenwich Village.
In 1924, Pulsifer married Susan Farley Nichols of Oyster Bay, Long island, who was herself a published author and poet. In the mid 1920s, the Outlook was facing serious competition and financial liabilities. The decline and fall of the Outlook, a family legacy, was for Pulsifer a scene of tragedy and defeat. The Pulsifers moved to Maine, a place fondly remembered from his boyhood, buying a coastal farm near Cundy’s Harbor, Harpswell, where he dedicated his efforts to reclaiming a salt marsh for the wild fowl and renaming the farm “Little Ponds.”
Friends in New York approached the administration of Bowdoin College with an offer to establish a special chair in English for Pulsifer, who would serve as poet-in-residence. The offer was declined after months of negotiation, to his great despair. However, the Pulsifer house rented in Brunswick came to be a beacon for aspiring students of literature and members of the English department. He wrote steadily, a novel and some plays as well as poems, which were published as a well-received collection titled The Harvest of Time (1932). A devastating fire at Houghton Farm, which destroyed the beloved homestead, channeled his poetic voice into the sonnet form, epitomized by his poem Elegy for a House, published in 1935. He served as president of the Poetry Society of America 1931-1932. He became active in the Harpswell and Brunswick communities, bringing to break down barriers between factions through his generous and sympathetic nature.
During World War Two, Susan led a movement to bring British children to America. Three boys and three girls came to live in the Pulsifer house. While the presence of the children was accepted by Harold, it brought stress to his ailing health. He became increasingly devoted to his Maine friend, Laura E Richard, which buoyed them both in their final years. He died in Sarasota, Florida, and buried at “Little Ponds,” in April 1948.
Our Pulsifer Collections contains letters, manuscripts, photographs and Pulsifer’s personal library.
Packard, Alice and Frederick Packard. Poems 1912-1947 by Harold Trowbridge Pulsifer. Waterville, ME: Colby College Press, 1954. Print.
Susan Nichols Pulsifer donor file. Colby College Special Collections.
“Two Friends of Robinson.” Colby Library Quarterly. Waterville, ME: Colby College Library, February 1949. Print and web.
HIGHLIGHTED DONORS FOR THIS COLLECTION
Susan Nichols Pulsifer – primary donor
Clara (Mrs Carl Jefferson) Weber