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Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 177

Scope and Contents

The Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn Papers document aspects of Sister Bernetta's literary studies and friendships, particularly those related to the poetry of Ezra Pound. The papers span the dates 1948-1985 and have been organized into four series: I. Correspondence; II. Writings and Notes; III. Personal Papers; and IV. 1985 Addition.

Series I, Correspondence , is housed in Boxes 1-2 and is alphabetically arranged by name of correspondent. With the exception of letters from Ezra Pound himself, the majority of the files contain one or two letters written to answer queries by Sister Bernetta, to thank her for book reviews or articles, or to arrange meetings and talks. This category of correspondents includes the poets Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, David Gascoyne, Galway Kinnell, Robert Lowell, William Meredith, Seán O'Faoláin, and Louis Zukofsky, and the scholars Marie Boroff, Philip Booth, J. Hillis Miller and Norman Holmes Pearson. The letters of Denise Levertov, for example, are primarily concerned with her request that Sister Bernetta review a volume of Vietnam War protest poetry, while the letter from William T. Stafford explains a confusion between himself and the "poet William Stafford whose mail I occasionally get."

Sister Bernetta's letters from Ezra Pound are located in folders 48-52. Subjects include Pound's humorous comments on Catholicism; her interpretations of his poetry, particularly the Cantos; lists of books Pound recommends to Sister Bernetta; and frequent references to his own political and social views. A letter of June 8, 1952 offers her detailed advice on teaching Dante's Paradiso: "the gt/ heave/ to set up gradations of states of consciousness.... give pupil idea of main architecture." A letter written for "Xmas 1952" contains a long discussion of his theories on usury.

Through her interest in Pound and his poetry, Sister Bernetta met and became friends with several members of Pound's family, including his daughter Mary de Rachewiltz and her mother Olga Rudge. Rudge's letters to her are almost entirely concerned with practical arrangements for her 1967 visit. Mary de Rachewiltz's correspondence with Quinn is more extensive and varied in subject matter. The letters contain personal and family news, particularly news of her children; her work on Pound's archive and her writing of her memoir Discretions; reflections on Pound's life and poetic reputation; and news of various scholarly conferences and meetings devoted to Pound's poetry. The collection also contains several letters from de Rachewiltz's children to Sister Bernetta.

Several other correspondents are closely connected to Sister Bernetta's long-standing interest in the poetry of Ezra Pound. Letters from Marcella Spann and Viola Baxter Jordan decline to contribute personal memories of Pound to an unidentified work. Letters from Guy Davenport, Peter Russell, and James Laughlin discuss news of Pound's failing health, his death in 1972, and the progress of Pound studies in the United States, particularly with reference to the Pound Center at Yale. A letter by Laughlin from 1976 notes that "there should be no more efforts to try to 'correct' Ezra's spellings" and goes on to note "his remarkable ear, and his disregard for the niceties of the eye." A few letters from Guy Davenport comment on C. David Heymann's Ezra Pound: The Last Rower, while others describe Davenport's lectures on Pound's work.

Letters by Robert Bly, located in folders 2-4, contain plans for meetings, comments on current reading and on poetry in general, and discussions of Sister Bernetta's critical work. For example, a letter dated 20 July 1963 details Bly's thoughts on the idea of "symbolism" in modern poetry, and goes on to describe "[Thomas's] desire to fill the poem with such energy that the reason retires exhausted and allows the poem to sink down into the instinctual waters." The letters of Robert Penn Warren contain personal and family news, descriptions of vacation activities, and encouragement and critiques of Sister Bernetta's own writing and academic pursuits.

Series II, Writings and Notes , is housed in boxes 2-4. The first subseries, Writings, contains several articles and poems written by Sister Bernetta Quinn, including "The Metaphoric Spirit" and "A Few Steps Toward Reassessing Stevens." Folder 85 contains a mimeograph sheet titled "The Fourteenth Way of Looking at a Blackbird," which is apparently the record of a group poetry project based on the Stevens poem.

The second and third subseries, Notebooks on The Cantos and Other Notes, consist almost entirely of notes on the content and interpretation of Pound's later cantos as well as bibliographical material relating to Pound. Folder 100 holds notes on Pound's appearance and conversation during Sister Bernetta's 1967 visit with him and Olga Rudge in Rapallo, including Pound's observation that "Rouse's Homer [is] not very musical."

The final subseries, Writings of Others, is alphabetically arranged by author. There are several folders of poems by Robert Penn Warren; folder 109 contains what Warren refers to as the "manuscript" of his 1968 collection, Incarnations: Poems 1966-1968, with the letter that accompanied the gift. James Wright is represented by "The Minneapolis Poem" and "Four Dead Sons (for Sister Bernetta)," as well as by typescripts carbon of other works.

Series III, Personal Papers is organized into the subseries Newspaper Clippings and Photographs, both alphabetically arranged. Folder 125 contains an interview with Sister Bernetta, while folder 124 holds obituary notices for Ezra Pound. Photographs include three folders of color photographs taken in and around Schlöss Brunnenberg in 1974; photographs of Venice taken in 1976; and a portrait of Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn.


  • 1948-1985


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn, 1968-1985. For further information, please consult the appropriate curator.

Associated Materials


1.67 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence, writings and notes, photographs, and newspaper clippings relating to Sister Bernetta Quinn's scholarly work on the poetry of Ezra Pound and other modern poets. Correspondents include Robert Bly, Guy Davenport, Caroline Gordon, James Laughlin, Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, Mary de Rachewiltz, Olga Rudge, Holly Stevens, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. Subjects include Sister Bernetta's scholarly work; writing and American poetry in general; conference and symposia plans; and personal news.
The Writings and Notes series contains notes and drafts on the Cantos by Sister Bernetta and typescripts of works by Robert Penn Warren, Robert Bly, and James Wright. Personal Papers includes photographs of Pound-related sites and persons in Brunnenberg and Venice.


Sister Bernetta Quinn was born Viola Roselyn Quinn in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in September 1915. She entered the Franciscan Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1934 and made profession of vows three years later. Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn earned a B.A. from the College of St. Teresa in 1942, an M.A. in English from Catholic University in 1944, and a doctorate in English from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1952.

Sister Quinn was a teacher throughout her adult life, first on the elementary and secondary levels and later at many colleges, including Norfolk State College, the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo, and Allen University. From 1954 to 1967 she was a member of the English Department faculty at the College of St. Teresa in Winona, Wisconsin.

She also authored several scholarly studies of Modernist poetry, including The Metamorphic Tradition in Modern Poetry (1955); Ezra Pound: An Introduction to the Poetry (1972); and Randall Jarrell (1981), as well as numerous scholarly articles and book reviews.

In 1983 she retired to Assisi Heights in Rochester, Minnesota, and that same year published a small collection of poems, --dancing in stillness. In 1997 she celebrated her diamond jubilee as a Franciscan Sister. Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn died at Assisi Heights on February 24, 2003.

Processing Information

Former call numbers: Za Pound Quinn, Za Quinn, and Uncat Za Ms 333.

Guide to the Sister Mary Bernetta Quinn Papers
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
July 2003
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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