Julia Budenz

Coming immediately after the death of my friend Julius Fraser, the death last week of Julia Budenz, another dear friend, is almost too much for me.

Julia came across my horizon in the mid-1980s when I was co-editing The Kenyon Review. I sometimes think she was one of America’s greatest poets of the time. She was an amazing luminous slender slightly ghostly presence, with a clarinetlike alto voice of great warmth and sadness and humor and power. She had been a nun. She knew more about Rome, ancient and onwards, than anyone I’ve known, translated fluently from Greek, Latin, and the Italian of Petrarch. Talked with the ghost of Tasso. A virtuoso of meter. I only saw her about 4 or 5 times in person, but we corresponded for decades, almost entirely about poetry and philosophical/spiritual matters. Her astonishing poem, The Gardens of Flora Baum, is going to be published in five volumes some time in the next year or so. I’ll give more details when I get them.

By Frederick Turner

Professor, poet, lecturer, black belt, and more.

15 replies on “Julia Budenz”

Fred says it best, but I too once tried to capture Julia’s special aura in this poem:


All in use is Julia’s living space,
Where she puts all her heart into the race:
Epic elbows epic along the long bookcase;
Her chariot rests ready, steady for the chase;
Light beside her bed is weaving grace
Across un-curtained window sills like lace;
The Odyssey inside The Iliad’s encased,
Achilles’ shield is centered, Aias wields a mace;
And Flora’s left a rose inside the Janus vase.

But welcome waves a banner fairer than a face,
And now she draws you in and drifts about the place;
And moves as gifted poets do, shifting in her pace;
And reads you from her work, which you must now embrace;
And closely scans a book and adds it to the base
Of what she’s made of life, while Flora’s part is glace.

I never felt more understood or loved by a person–she knew how to listen to others, and truly comprehend what they were about, with the most loving of spirits. I took it as a great honor that she commended my reading and understanding of her work. I do think she is one of the world’s greatest poets, and look forward with great anticipation to the publishing of her epic “The Gardens of Flora Baum.”

Imagine! She spoke with Tasso’s ghost, understood Cicero’s letters and his life, translated Newton for Harvard, traversed the distance from Unitarian to nun and back again; read Homer in the Original Greek and the Aeneid in Latin. She had a gift for awakening others to their own better selves.

In way of a brief introduction, I lived up stairs from Julia for 26 years and we were friends as well as neighbors. Several weeks before Julia passed away I brought her to see the De Rham Chilton Hospice House in the event her illness would prevent her from being at home. I am a volunteer there and knew if she had to be somewhere other than home it would be the place that would best suit her. She agreed it was lovely and homey and cheerful and everyone was wonderful. She did want to take a walk that day and she decided that particular neighborhood would be a good place to do it. While we were walking, I glanced down the street beyond the cross street and there were piles of red leaves on the sidewalks, the street and in several yards. It was like a crimson wonderland. We decided to walk in that direction to enjoy the beauty of it. As we approached the end of the street on the right I saw some yellow roses and I said .. aaaaahhhhhhhhh Julia! Look …… and we went over and admired this one yellow rose which held its head up proudly and was perfect … in late November! We took the time to smell it and to talk of such things and to really take the moment in. Earlier in the week in which she passed, I decided to write Julia a poem about the yellow rose and about 6 – 8 lines came to me quickly and I wrote them down but never got a chance to finish it as I was busy tending to her needs. etc. I told her Friday night that I was writing a poem for her about the yellow rose and she thought that was lovely. I was not able to complete it before she passed away so I stayed up the night before her prayer service and finished it. Interestingly enough, it appears it was not meant to be completed until after she passed as you will see when you read it … though it would appear to be a poem about the rose and the experience, it is metaphorically Julia.

An Unexpected Rose

In the coolness of November
on a walk through crimson leaves
stood a yellow rose, so proper
with a scent for those to breathe.

It captured our attention
which warranted a pause,
enriching every moment
we paid attention to its cause.

Delicate and sturdy;
illuminating sun
so lovely to behold
in the hearts of those it won.

The joy we felt was endless
as we stood within its grace
we did not want to leave
as we shared its sacred space

Sadly, the days began to shorten
as December came into play
and the yellow petals wilted
and the wind blew them away

Yet the fragrance and the beauty
etched in our hearts remain
for once you’ve known such elegance
you can never be the same.

Written for Julia Budenz, with love,


Ruby Von Dwornick

completed on

December 14, 2010

Thank you all very much for yor remarks and reflections upon Julia who was a friend from the beginning of our meeting in California at the Djerassi Foundation in Woodside (1983). Later, in 1987 we met for a portion of a summer at Yaddo (1987) and it was my delight to have been her dinner partner for much of that visit. Julia was such a remarkable person in the world of poetry and the “bulk” of her long poem was prodigous from many aspects and spoke to her expectation.
On a group moonlight walk (uphill) in Woodside, Julia was possesed of the moment and recited a “fragment” from Sappho…only to repeat it to our astonishment moments later for one of our number who hadn’t heard it “completely”. Consequently I’ve not ever forgotten the shared experience of one so endowed.
When I learned of her travel to Bellagio in Italy, I was pleased that her work was receiving such care. As a Unitarian Universalist, there is no suprise to me that such meeting would have found such extraordinary affect. Peace be with Julia!
Marvin Brown

I just found out about Julia’s passing today. There were no articles before her passing and I looked on several occasions. Julia spent a year in Berea teaching Latin at Berea College. I had the privilege and good fortune to have her in my life as a teacher and a friend. Julia lived in many places and times simultaneously. Her poetry reflected her state of being. It was still and in flux. It was focused and it wandered. She was a marvel to witness.

I knew Julia only slightly–but Julia’s radiance was always a wonder to me–through her friendship at Harvard with the great classicist Wendell Clausen, my teacher and mentor. I then lost touch but thought to look her up this morning as I included her in a preface to a book I am writing. In illo tempore I had no idea she was near my mother’s age, but she left us all too soon, I pray with not too much suffering. I am sorry for the loss which her death represents to Julia’s friends. I think Julia’s love for people shone through in all I ever saw of Julia. Equally Julia’s love for poetry and books. As little as I knew Julia, Julia’s radiance seems to me the more astonishing. From these meager words of remembrance, you can perhaps see how memorable it still is to me. I will try to relate two anecdotes another time here before long.

I am looking for a journal that will publish a review I intend to write for Julia’s great poem. Any suggestions?

On that moonlit walk at the Djerassi Foundation, in 1983, I was privileged (along with Marvin Brown & others) to hear Julia Budenz “sing” works of Sappho: Like an ancient ascent to Parnassus.

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