David Janes Lyttle

By: Susan W. Smith

Volume 17, Issue 12, December 2022

When I learned in late November that David Lyttle, an Admiralty Group neighbour, had died at 98 years
of age, I was saddened. However, I realized that this would allow me to again pay tribute to this poet,
sailor, tennis player, and emeritus professor of American literature at Syracuse University, who loved our River and our islands so much.

I was given a copy of one of David's books this summer, and I immediately chose "Leaks," written 41
years ago, to appear in our August 2022 issue. Why? It describes every cottage owner's anguish when the
roof leaks!

Published in 1981, in “Down By The Back Road: Visions in the Plain Style.”
"Mouse" By David Lyttle 

I met David in the 1980s, when he would sail past our island and visit our neighbor, Helen Wright Greuter or Derek and Marj Innes on Towers Island. Sailing and tennis were just two of his favorite pastimes.

David Lyttle in his Blue Boat! This photograph was first published in the profile we did in December 2011 issue of TI Life.

This obituary is written by his children, Diana and Christopher.

[PHOTO David Lyttle in his Blue Boat! This photograph was first published in the profile we did in December 2011 issue of TI Life.]

David Janes Lyttle

David Janes Lyttle, 98 years old, of Syracuse, NY, passed away on Tuesday, 22 November 2022.

Born in Brooklyn, NY, to Charles and Marcia (Janes) Lyttle, David grew up in Chicago, IL, before attending Earlham College, IN. Raised in the Unitarian and Quaker traditions, he was a Conscientious Objector during WW II. While doing his alternative service at the Byberry mental hospital in Philadelphia, PA, he met Eulene Sherman, his wife of 67 years. He earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania (State College). He was an emeritus professor at Syracuse University and published extensively on Emerson, Thoreau, and Jonathan Edwards. He also wrote four books of poetry.

An excellent tennis player, David won state-wide competitions in Indiana while in college. He was also an avid and competitive sailor, winning trophies in Day Sailor, Comet, and Hobie 14 class sailboats.


David invariably spent his summers sailing the Thousand Islands. From his youth, his family came to a cottage built by his great uncle in 1901. As a teenager, he built his own sailboat and a one room cabin in the islands. As a young man, he introduced his wife to the islands and they spent many summers raising their children on the shores of the St. Lawrence. Through the years, David and Eulene made many friends in the area, but especially in the Admiralty Group. During their winters, they traveled widely in their RV, but the Thousand Islands were always at the heart of their world, wherever they happened to be at the moment.

David is survived by his brother, Bradford; his children Christopher and Diana; his grandchildren: Zachary Lyttle, Maxwell Lyttle, Justin Wright, and Evan Wright; and his great grandson Jace David Lyttle.

Two of David Lyttle's books of poetry. No Other Time published in 1959 and Down Near the Back Road: Visions in the Plain Style published in 1981. 

The family has permitted me to share David's poetry once again. I have chosen two short poems, one from "Down Near the Back Road: Visions in the Plain Style," published in 1981, and the second one from "The Blue Antiquity of Dawn," published in 2014. As well, I've included one of his commentaries, for his poem, "The Blue Antiquity of Dawn," which is the last entry in the book of the same name. At the end of his poetry, he often provided a commentary, and the first part of this one, which accompanies this beautiful piece of poetry, will make you smile, I know.

Commentary for "The Blue Antiquity of Dawn"

Do blue herons shriek at night? Many years ago, sleeping by the St. Lawrence River, about 11:30 at night, I was falling asleep when I suddenly heard, in the warm stillness of the night, a shriek like a baby being skinned alive. If I had been a cat, my hair would have stood on end. I had never heard anything like it, and I thought I knew all the night noises of the marsh. For years, I never heard it again, but whenever I went down to the boathouse at night, I went warily. Then decades later, I happened to go down at dusk, and I heard it again. I looked outside, around the corner of the boathouse, and saw a great heron drifting away, above the silent water, in the moonlit mist. I have not heard it again.

Two additional poems

Thank you, my friend, for sharing your friendship, poetry, and philosophy with our islanders.

By Susan W. Smith, Editor, info@thousandislandslife.com

Posted in: Volume 17, Issue 12, December 2022, Essay, People, Places

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