Listen. . . With faint dry sound, Like steps of passing ghosts, The leaves, frost-crisp'd, break from the trees And fall.
Adelaide Crapsey was born on September 9, 1878, in Brooklyn Heights, New York. She was the third child of the Reverend Algernon Sidney Crapsey and Adelaide Trowbridge Crapsey. Within the first year after Crapsey was born, her father became rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Parish in Rochester, New York, where the family then moved.
Crapsey went to public schools in Rochester before enrolling at Kemper Hall, an Episcopalian college preparatory school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1893. She graduated four years later as valedictorian of her class, then enrolled at Vassar College, where she became close friends with fellow writer Jean Webster, who later based many of her spirited and colorful female characters on Crapsey. While at Vassar, Crapsey also served as the class poet for three years.
After graduating from Vassar in 1901, Crapsey spent a year at home in Rochester, then moved back to Wisconsin, where she taught literature and history at Kemper Hall from 1902 to 1904. It was during this time that Crapsey started feeling the first symptoms of the illness that would eventually take her life. Suffering from chronic fatigue (an early sign of tuberculosis), Crapsey left Kemper Hall in 1904 and traveled to Italy to study at the School of Classical Studies of the American Academy in Rome. She returned to Rochester near the end of 1905 in time to attend her father’s heresy trial, after which he was deposed from the Episcopal Church—an event that no doubt affected Crapsey, who maintained a close relationship with her father.
In 1906, Crapsey accepted another teaching position, this time at a preparatory school in Stamford, Connecticut, but her health worsened, and she returned to Europe to recuperate in December of 1908. For the next three years, she lived in Italy, England, and France, during which time she underwent intensive study of meter and rhythm in English poems. In 1910 she continued her studies of prosody at the British Museum and began considering the possibility of publishing her work.
Despite her continued poor health, she returned to the United States in 1911 to take a post at Smith College as an instructor of poetics. That same year, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Hiding the news from her family, Crapsey continued teaching until she collapsed in July 1913. Crapsey was then sent to a private sanatorium in Saranac Lake, New York, where she remained until August 1914. It was here that she composed her best poems and invented a new poetic form, the cinquain: a twenty-two-syllable, five-line poem.
Crapsey soon returned to her family’s home in Rochester, but her health quickly worsened, and she died on October 8, 1914, at the age of thirty-six.
Her first book of poems, Verse (Manas Press, 1915), was published posthumously. Three years later, her work on prosody, A Study in English Metrics, was published as well.