about John Allan Wyeth

 John Allan Wyeth, poet, painter, pianist, was born in New York City, 1894. He was educated at Princeton (M.A. 1917), where he was part of the literary circle which included Edmund Wilson, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Peale Bishop. (1)  They most often met at the Charter Club, where Wyeth was frequently heard on the piano.  Wyeth and Edmund Wilson would remain in touch into the 1950s.  Wyeth's closest friend at Princeton was medievalist "Bert" Friend, who would later become a leading authority on Byzantine art and early manuscript illumination.

During the war, Wyeth served with Headquarters, 33rd Division as Division Interpreter, and member of the division intelligence section.  He also served with the Army of Occupation in Germany throughout most of 1919. (2)

After Wyeth's discharge in October, 1919, he spent the winter recuperating at his brother's home in Palm Beach. While there, Wyeth applied for and received a fellowship from Princeton to study for a year in Liege, Belgium. (3)  On July 24, 1920, Wyeth sailed for Europe on the SS St Paul. According to his passport, he intended to visit Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, England, France and Switzerland, for the purpose of "study".  He completed his oral exams in French and German in 1923.

For a time he considered pursuing a graduate degree but instead, by 1926, Wyeth had taken up residence in Rapallo, Italy where, as suggested by recently discovered evidence, he became acquainted with Ezra Pound, Max Beerbohm, Gerhart Hauptmann and W.B. Yeats. (4). It was during his time in Rapallo that, according to a letter to his graduate advisor explaining why he had decided to abandon his studies, Wyeth devoted himself to literature and most probably wrote the sonnet sequence published in 1928 as This Man's Army. As demonstrated in the analysis of Dana Gioia, Wyeth's innovative use of the sonnet form employs many Modernist techniques, and raises the possibility of Pound's influence on Wyeth's poetic practice. (5)

By the early 1930s Wyeth had apparently abandoned literature for painting. He studied with Duncan Grant, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, in 1932, and with Jean Marchand, also associated with the Bloomsbury Group, at the Académie Moderne in Paris for six years (Gioia, p 259). Wyeth went on to paint post-Impressionistic landscapes in the south of France and in the Greek islands. Wyeth exhibited in Paris, and later in Washington, DC, Pittsburgh, and New York, but with never more than limited critical notice.

Passenger ship records show that Wyeth returned to New York from England in January of 1938. He must have returned to Europe for a time shortly thereafter, for records next show that he arrived in New York by passenger ship from France on the eve of the war, in late August 1939. During WWII, Wyeth served in the Coast Guard. (6) 

John Allan Wyeth died in 1981.  He is buried in Blawenburg Cemetery, in Blawenburg, Somerset County, New Jersey.

Though Wyeth's 1929 collection of war sonnets received only scant notice at its publication, and was followed by total obscurity, Wyeth's work, rediscovered in the early 1990s, began to receive critical attention in 2003, when three of his sonnets appeared in a major anthology of 20th-Century American poetry [Gioia, Mason & Schoerke], Twentieth-Century American Poetry (NY: McGraw Hill, 2003)].  

Wyeth's complete cycle,  This Man's Army, with a biographical and interpretive introduction by Dana Gioia (which first appeared in the 2008 Summer issue of the Hudson Review), and annotations by BJ Omanson, was re-published in October 2008 by the University of South Carolina Press, as part of Matthew Bruccoli's Great War Series of lost literary classics of WWI.

Most recently, as part of a two-day conference in London on 12-13 November at the British Academy on "The First World War: Literature, Culture, Modernity", Professor Tim Kendall, University of Exeter, presented a paper on Wyeth, entitled "John Allan Wyeth’s War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets".


(1):  Gioia, Dana"The Unknown Soldier: The Poetry of John Allan Wyeth".  The Hudson Review, Vol LXI, No 2 (Summer 2008). pp 255.  This article appeared again as the introductory essay in the 2008 University of South Carolina Press republication of This Man's Army.

(2):  Huidekoper, Frederic Louis, The History of the 33rd Division, A.E.F. Volume II of Illinois in the World War.  (Springfield, Illinois: Illinois State Historical Library, 1921), p. 25.

(3): Gioia, "The Unknown Soldier", p 256.

(4): Omanson, B.J. "Notes on Wyeth's Years in Rapallo," in Before the Clangor of the Gun: the First World War Poetry of John Allan Wyeth. (Morgantown: Monongahela Press, 1919).

(5): Gioia, "The Unknown Soldier", p 257.

(5): Gioia, "The Unknown Soldier", pp 259-60.


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