Poems and Letters

Leonard Bernstein’s Poetry and Letters: An Introduction

All our lives are spent in the attempt to resolve conflicts… it is only after death that it can finally be perceived whether we ever

~ Leonard Bernstein

(October 24, 1965, The New York Times)

Leonard Bernstein was a man of many words.

Whether he was by himself suffering from insomnia or surrounded by adoring fans, humbling family members, collaborative and competitive colleagues, or patient friends, Bernstein created and communicated incessantly.

Making sense of the world around him seemed to energize Bernstein. He wrote letters upon letters to family and colleagues and friends. He wrote puzzles for his children and poems for a lucky few. He wrote the programs for hundreds of music education concerts and wrote speeches to inspire.

According to those who knew him best, he always had something to say.

In his written words, Bernstein reveals his personal paradoxes: his fear of dying and his lust for life; the common man amid the creative genius; the vulnerability side by side what many say was Lenny’s magical, magnetic force.

Here is an excerpt from one such pivotal writing (published in Findings), in which Bernstein calls on Johns Hopkins University graduates (class of 1980), and all of society, to dare to dream:

The gift of imagination is by no means an exclusive property of the artist; it is a gift we all share; to some degree or other all of us, all of you, are endowed with the powers of fantasy. The dullest of dullards among us has the gift of dreams at night — visions and yearnings and hopes. Everyone can also think; it is the quality of thought that makes the difference — not just the quality of logical thinking, but of imaginative thinking. …

We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who have ensured that we can appreciate Bernstein’s love of language.

These include: Bernstein’s early piano teacher, Helen Coates, who went on to become his personal secretary and archivist; daughter Nina Bernstein Simmons, who led early efforts to digitize much of her father’s archives, working with Library of Congress, Music Division, archivist Mark Horowitz, who maintains and preserves the incredible Leonard Bernstein digital collection; among many others.

This collection includes curated selections of the hundreds of Bernstein poems and letters.

Ways to explore this collection

  • Use the tags at the bottom of any feature to explore by topic, such as year, time period, or theme.
  • Use the recommendations (“You may also like”) or linked tags at the bottom of the page to explore related thematic content (within and beyond Bernstein’s poetry collection).
  • Continue to the next poetry feature within the poetry collection (“Up next”).
  • Visit Classical.org every Thursday in September and October 2018 to read a new addition to this exploration of Bernstein’s love of language.
  • Return to the collection landing page anytime.
About this content

Poetry and writings by Leonard Bernstein used by permission. All rights reserved.

Classical.org thanks Nina Bernstein Simmons, Margaret Mercer, and the staff of The Leonard Bernstein Office for their support and expertise co-producing this series, as well as Jamie Bernstein, Barbara Haws, and Mark Travis.

Special thanks to Jeremy Irons and Laila Robins for reading Bernstein’s poetry for The Bernstein Experience on Classical.org.

We welcome your feedback.

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