With the recent discovery of seven letters in an attic in Litchard, Massachusetts, we are able to significantly advance the scholarship concerning the early relationship between the author Robinson Day (who wrote the seven letters) and the poet Mary Irwin (who received them and, it appears, secreted them in a shoe box, which was in turn placed inside a hatbox and stored on a high shelf in the attic of her mother’s house in Litchard). Day and Irwin, of course, were involved for more than six years (from 1955 to 1961), four of them as husband and wife, and their life together has been well documented, particularly the final phase, when Day was consumed by his monograph on the poetry of Ernest Norris and Irwin, deep within what she would later call her “decade of working hard not to work,” was beginning a love affair with the playwright Christopher Padilla. Prior to their marriage, the relationship between Day and Irwin was primarily an epistolary one. They met while studying abroad in London in 1947, at which time they struck up a platonic friendship, as both were linked to other partners: Day to Lucille Danning, whom he would marry in 1948, and Irwin to Andrew McClennan, whom she would marry in 1949. Those unions were short-lived. Day’s problems with alcohol, which have been written about at great length, most notably by the author himself in Decoy Parties, hastened the demise of his marriage to Danning, while Irwin and McClennan’s union ended when McClennan was murdered in January 1950 by an intruder in the lobby of his tennis club in San Martin, California.
The couple’s correspondence, which numbered more than 140 letters before the discovery of the seven in Litchard, began in 1953, when Day wrote Irwin on February 6 to inform her that he had read that her debut collection, Good to Know, was receiving positive notices. “It seems to have taken wing,” he said. She responded immediately (“Here’s to hoping it stays aloft”), and from that moment, the two of them were back in regular contact. It has been well established, and remarked upon most recently by Karl Kaplan, that the communication between Day and Irwin quickly reached a high level of intimacy, and these new letters support that contention. By February 19, he was already sending her his work notes for an essay he intended to write about the incompatibility of the emotional and political realms. She replied with comments, eliciting his response of March 3: “To be honest,” he wrote, “I may have exaggerated the need for your critical attention, as the piece has already been submitted. But I am happy to think of you awake at all hours, in a man’s golf shirt, poring over the thing with a pencil tucked behind your ear.”
But the relationship was also marked by significant froideurs. Irwin had, from the first, informed Day of her involvement with Archibald Dobler, a New York attorney and poetry aficionado. Day did not mention Dobler in his responses, but he became increasingly frustrated with Irwin’s insistence on mentioning him. He parodied her habit (“Dobler doblered and then continued doblering,” he wrote on April 20) and then objected explicitly. “Stop putting in for a transfer,” Day wrote on April 29, in the briefest and most brusque of the letters discovered in Litchard. Despite Day’s use of military language in this letter, it is clear that both he and Irwin were preoccupied with personal matters at the expense of international ones. Neither of them seems to have paid much notice when on May 1 two American minesweepers, the USS Dextrous and the USS Ruddy, were conducting a mag-acoustic exploratory sweep off of the coast of Hungnam, North Korea, when they were fired upon by a three-gun emplacement; or, for that matter, the events of the following day, when guns on Hodo Pando registered direct hits on both the USS Maddox and the USS Owen, causing moderate damage but no casualties. The May letters make no mention of the efforts of the USS James E. Kyes and USS Eversole, which joined forces to destroy a locomotive and six-car train at Chaho, using more than 400 rounds (of which 128 were starshells). The June 15 letter, the longest of those found at Litchard, investigates at great length the equivocal nature of the relationship but says nothing about the activity of the previous week, in which the USS Bole fired on active Korean guns in Wonsan Harbor and a squadron of F4U-4s on the USS Lake Champlain was exchanged for one squadron of F9F-5s on the unconverted USS Boxer to obtain greater fuel supply and to upgrow catapult bomb loads. The Boxer and the Lake Champlain, along with the USS Princeton and the USS Philippine Sea, were then dedicated entirely to launching offensive air strikes. Conditions were nothing if not difficult, with ceilings consistently lower than 1500 feet, sometimes as low as 300 feet, and navigation was accomplished using only minimal red lighting on cargo decks and fueling rigs. Day expressed romantic love with increasing ardor and Irwin resisted with increasing stubbornness, even after she broke off with Dobler; she was stubborn, Day cannily wrote, “to the point of uncertainty, as if unable to locate [her] own faith and relying instead on brute insistence.” Propeller aircraft bombed Seoul, damaging President Rhee’s residence, and a PBM sank at Iwakuni Seadrome while taxiing to test its engines: not remarked upon. It is probably not even worth noting the omission from the correspondence of the definitive assault that occurred on the morning of July 27, during which American aircraft either destroy or seriously damage 11 railroad bridges, one railroad tunnel, 23 railroad cars, and more than 60 buildings vital to the ongoing successful operation of the nation’s railways, and after which an armistice was signed and the war finally ended.v