George Sterling's Suicide (Poet's Suicide)

By Dennis Siluk

George Sterling committed suicide in 1926, perhaps he wrote close to 14-books in his life time. Some say he committed suicide after becoming sick and unable to reach his goal of being awarded the poet of the United States. That may have played a part in it, but if any one has done a search on Mr. Sterling, it would show there were more variables than that. First of all, his long time friend and tutor was dead, either by his own hands, or killed in some skirmish in Mexico or South America, Ambrose Bierce. Second, his long time friend, Jack London had died of Alcoholism, of which George was two of the characters in his books. Third, he was tutoring up coming poet, Clark A. Smith, who seemed to be advancing faster than he, for his style of poetry, dealing mostly with imagery was fading, and the new Robinson Jeffers was taking the glory, if there is any, behind the scenes. Jeffers had adjusted to the time. All three hand what you might call their long poem: which seems to be the cornerstone to poetic fame. CAS, wrote the 'Hashish Eater' plus he was going more into the cosmic fantasy area, with short stories (Sterling was not having any luck with short stories at all), thus having two avenues for CAS, where Sterling failed in short stories completely, CAS did not; Sterling was now 58-years old, it was past middle age for those folks back then (old age you might add) and life was nearing it end anyhow; Bierce once acclaimed Sterling to have written the best poem ever written in imagery to be his 'The Wine of Wizardry." Still at this time (1925) Jeffers' "Tamar," came out, and the world liked it. Thus, Sterling was feeling he was being put on the shelf. And when that happens, like so many poets, they take their own lives one way or another. You have to know your time is now, not past. Although times change, and so does the appetite for literature, George did not feel he had the time to wait. Plus, he was almost penniless. His contributors were few.

Perhaps alcohol was a contributing factor also; like the poet, novelist Robert Howard, committed suicide after his mother died, life is harder to live than death sometimes. Things become sour for H.P. Lovecraft as well, as his cancer took over his life. All of Sterling's friends and colleagues were changing, and change plays a solid part in depression—slowly does it, or it becomes too unbearable.

So when someone says, George Sterling killed himself because he did not win the gold he was after, it was not because of that alone, it was according to him, his time: perhaps he was braver than we all give him credit for.

In Sterling's letters we can see a pattern of depression developing; a loss of hope, despair. He didn't want to live as a has-been, he wanted to live as a great poet. Some have criticized his poetry as well, saying they don't or didn't ever understand it. In poetry you must understand the poet a little, what does he want to do, bring you. He necessary is not writing for you, but for another reason, and the groups that will appreciate it are few. Only a poet can critique a poet properly. First find out what his objective is: perhaps there is no theme, and you want one, Robert Frost may be your link. Fancy and macabre, it might be Clark A. Smith, or Poe, or Baudelaire.

George did what he was created to do, show the beauty of words put together, and hung out to dry under a sun called 'Imagery.' He could not adjust to anything else; it was too much a selected poet.

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