May Swenson died on December 4th 1989 at Bethany Beach, Delaware. She was born May 28th 1913 in Logan, Utah, a daughter of Dan Arthur and Anna Margaret (Helberg) Swenson. After taking her B.S. degree from Utah State University, she moved to New York, NY, never to return to Utah on a permanent basis. May Swenson's career in belles lettres is a rich mosaic of dedication and achievements. Poet, critic, scholar, editor, writer in residence, and lecturer, she left behind a significant body of work.
She was recipient of numerous prizes and awards for her poetry: American Introductions Prize in 1955; William Rose Benet Prize of the Poetry Society of America in 1959; Longview Foundation Award in 1959; National Institute of Arts and Letters Award in 1960; Brandeis University Creative Arts Award in 1967; Lucy Martin Donnelly Award of Bryn Mawr College in 1968; Shelley Poetry Award in 1968, to name a few. In 1959, Ms. Swenson received the Guggenheim fellowship, followed by the Amy Lowell Travelling Scholarship in 1960, a Ford Foundation grant in 1964, the Bollingen Prize for poetry in 1981, and the MacArthur Fellowship in 1987. She worked for a time as an editor for New Directions and was writer in residence at Purdue University (1966-67). She lectured widely on university and college campuses.
May Swenson's books include Another Animal (Scribner, 1954); A Cage of Spines (Rinehart, 1958); To Mix with Time: New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 1963); Poems to Solve (for children "14-up") (Scribner, 1966); Half Sun Half Sleep (Scribner, 1967); More Poems to Solve (Scribner, 1968); Iconographs (Scribner, 1970); New & Selected Things Taking Place (Little, Brown, 1978); and In Other Words (Knopf, 1987). She has been anthologized in numerous poetry collections.
May Swenson once said that her experience of poetry is "based in a craving to get through the curtains of things as they appear, to things as they are, and then into the larger, wilder space of things as they are becoming." The poet's task became, for her, a lifelong quest for a means of interpreting "the vastness of the unknown beyond [one's] consciousness."
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The text of the plaque reads:
May Swenson, a nationally acclaimed poet, born and raised in Utah, stood and hiked near where you are now standing. As an artist of words, she created this poem to preserve the majestic landscape and the emothios she felt shen visiting this spot.
Above Bear Lake by May Swenson
Sky and lake the same blue,
and blue the languid mountain between them.
Cloud fluffs make the scene flow.
Greeny white pools of aspen snake up,
graven with welts and calluses where branches
dried and broke. Other scabs are lover-made:
Initials dug within linked hearts and, higher
some jackknifed peace signs.
A breeze, and the filtered light makes shine
a million bristling quills of spruce and fir
downslope, where slashes of sky and lake
hang blue—windows of intense stain. We take
the rim trail, crushing bloom of sage,
sniffing resinous wind, our boots in the wild,
small, everycolored Rocky Mountain flowers.
Suddenly, a steep drop-off: below we see the whole,
the whale of it—deep, enormous blue—
that widens, while the sky slants back to pale
behind a watercolored mountain.
Western Tanager – we call him “Fireface: -
darts ahead, we climb to our camp
as the sun slips lower. Clipped to the top
of the tallest fir, Olive-sided Flycatcher,
over and over, fierce-whistles, “Whip!
Whip three bears! Whip, whip three bears!”