HARRIET MONROE at Poetry magazine, John Crowe Ransom at The Kenyon Review, Philip Rahv and William Phillips at Partisan Review - the most distinguished of America's "small magazines" have had strong editorial hands at their helm. The same has been true of the Quarterly Review of Literature. Its editor, Theodore Weiss, was an accomplished poet and popular teacher, but his most significant contribution to American literary life was his editorship of the magazine for nearly 60 years.
The magazine was founded by Weiss and Warren Carrier in 1943, and Weiss became sole editor a year later, though thereafter he was assisted in the production, administrative chores, and editorial selections of the magazine by his wife, Renee, whom he had married in 1941. They worked closely as a team and, with the exception of the writing of his own poems, Weiss shared all his literary activities with her. As a Princeton colleague noted, the couple clearly liked each other a lot, and it showed.
Born in 1916, Weiss had grown up in Pennsylvania and took his BA from that state's Muhlenberg College in 1938, then an MA from Columbia University in 1940. After teaching at several universities as an instructor, he settled after the Second World War at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where he taught for 20 years before moving to Princeton in 1966.
He was a productive academic, who wrote extensively on both English and American literature (including a book on Shakespeare's early plays, The Breath of Clowns and Kings, 1971) but his greatest energies were reserved for his magazine and for his own poetry. Though he never enjoyed the success of contemporaries such as Robert Lowell, John Berryman, or Randall Jarrell, Weiss was a prolific poet, whose best work was tightly constructed, introspective but elliptical, sometimes terse.
In his lyric poems Weiss is never especially melodic, and his work can be seen at its best in his longer poems, notably his book- length work Gunsight, a verse narrative published in 1962. It takes the form of an interior monologue of a wounded GI in the Second World War as he slips out of consciousness before surgery. Recoveries (1982), another long narrative poem, consists of imagined dialogue between an American art conservator and the characters in the medieval Italian fresco he is restoring. In all, Weiss published 12 books of poems, including a collected poems, From Princeton One Autumn Afternoon, in 1987.
As an editor, Weiss from the first showed eclectic taste, publishing work from a range of established figures and new, younger writers. Work by Ezra Pound, e.e. cummings, Wallace Stevens (who praised the young Weiss's eagerness and inquisitiveness) and Ralph Ellison appeared in early issues, as did several sections from William Carlos Williams's masterpiece, Paterson. The journal did not confine itself to English-language writers, and indeed made a reputation for itself as a home for translation, devoting an entire issue in 1945 to Kafka, at a time when much of his work was not available in English. Other foreign writers receiving special attention included Montale, Leopardi and Holderlin.
The selection of new young writers was particularly impressive; in retrospect they …