Thursday, February 7, 2013

Winona Montgomery Gilliland (1891-1960)

Born June 1891, Indiana
Died April 1960, Indiana?

Winona Montgomery Gilliland was born Mary Winona Montgomery in June 1891 in Indiana, probably in Indianapolis. Her family was evidently a prosperous one and lived on North Meridian Street, an area of the city made famous in the novels of Booth Tarkington. She attended the Day and Boarding School for Girls in her home city (class of 1909) and matriculated at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where she was known as Winona. There she became a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and president of La Cercle Francaise, a French club. Winona also met her future husband in Robert V. Gilliland of Bluffton, Indiana. The two were married in the home of her parents on October 23, 1915. They lived in Indianapolis at least until 1940 when the last available census had them on Central Avenue with their daughter. That is as much as I know about the life of Winona Montgomery Gilliland. As for her career, she was a poet who had her verse published in The American Mercury, Poetry, The Saturday Evening Post, and Weird Tales. Here are two of her poems:

Deserted Farm
by Winona Montgomery Gilliland

What can be stranger than a lonely farm,
Deserted? It is haunted by the ghosts 
Of all its earlier tenants; in new form,
Where once they lived secure, they are now guests.
One slender poplar, swaying by the pond,
Was that gay stripling who so often stood
Angling for silvery perch. Here, where they penned
The woolly sheep, the yarrow blooms instead.
This pine, spreading gaunt branches by the door,
Could well have been the brawny husbandman
Who tilled these fields; who held these acres dear.
Wan in the day-sky, peers a phantom moon.

I have seen farms like this and they are as haunted as Winona's poem suggests. If you are from the Midwest and you have gotten off the main roads, you have seen them too. (From The American Mercury, Dec. 1935.)

Tears for My Country
by Winona Montgomery Gilliland

This is the twilight hour, the moment before
We are swallowed by the dark.
Our vision is dimmed; we are tired
And long for ease.
We neglect our vital spark---
That burning love for freedom which once lit
Our blackest nights---and now we fumble,
Confused and fearful, hearing our foundations crumble.

Craven, we seek a leader, who will raise
A torch and make our pathway smooth again;
Forgetting that within us sleeps a fire
Sufficient, in itself, to make us men.

Winona M. Gilliland wrote "Tears for My Country" on the eve of World War II. It was published in The American Mercury in July 1938, just two months before Czechoslovakia capitulated to the Nazis. That was seventy-five years ago, yet this poem could easily have been written today.

Winona Montgomery Gilliland's Poem in Weird Tales
"The Old House on the Hill" (Dec. 1937)

Further Reading
A newspaper account of Winona's wedding is available on the Internet (Indianapolis Star, Oct. 24, 1915). Also, a website called Gilliland Trails has abundant information on Gillilands (and Gillilans, including Strickland Gillilan, who also contributed to Weird Tales.)

This cover, from November 1941, came three years after Winona Montgomery Gilliland's "Tears for My Country," yet it illustrates the mood of impending war in her poem. The artist was Hannes Bok.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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