Celebrating American She-Poets (4): Pearl Buck “Words of Love”

I give you the books I’ve made,
Body and soul, bled and flayed.
Yet the essence they contain
In one poem is made plain,
In one poem is made clear:
On this earth, through far or near,
Without love there’s only fear.

Essence by Pearl Buck, novelist and humanitarian

No one will think first of poetry when they think of Pearl Buck. She was primarily a novelist and memoirist. She did write poetry though and one collection was published. I consider her a sort of spiritual mother and so include her early in this ongoing Thursday series: Celebrating American She-Poets.

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) was born in Virginia, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries. She grew up in China and spoke Chinese before she spoke English. Her Chinese name was Sai Zhenzhu.

Pearl Buck was a prolific writer of novels and memoir who started publishing her stories and essays in the 1920s in popular periodicals of the day: The Nation, The Chinese Recorder, Asia, and The Atlantic Monthly. Her first novel was East Wind, West Wind (John Day Company, 1930).

Of her novels, The Good Earth is the best known. It won the Pulitzer in 1932. The focus of most of her writing was China and the Chinese. When Chinese-American author Anchee Min wrote Pearl of Chinaa fictionalized account of Pearl Buck’s life, she said that she was touched by the warmth and understanding with which Ms. Buck had written about Chinese peasants and their lives.

Pearl Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

To my knowledge, there is only one small book of her poems. The collection is titled Words of Love. It is simply illustrated with Asian art by Jeanyee Wong and was published a year after Ms. Buck’s death by the John Day Company, the publishing firm run by Pearl Buck’s second husband, Richard Walsh.

I found a copy of Words of Love in a used-book store some years ago. The poem quoted above is an excerpt. In brief, eloquent, deft strokes, Ms. Buck’s poems do indeed express the themes of her novels. I can’t help but wonder whether there might be more of her poetry stored in some university archive awaiting discovery by an ambitious student or devoted biographer.

Dust-jacket, Words of Love by Pearl S. Buck.

© 2016,  Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; illustrations are in the public domain

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