Edgar Bowers Essay - Critical Essays


Edgar Bowers’s poetry has been praised for its technical skill, its smooth integration of philosophical ideas, and its intellectual rigor. He was described by Dick Davis, a fellow poet and professor of Persian at Ohio State University, as “a cerebral poet,” while the Oxford Companion to Poetry states Bowers’s poetry shows “great intellectual sophistication” as he writes “with unmannered dexterity.”

Bowers’s greatest achievement was in his use of blank verse for poetry on contemporary themes and issues. Bowers kept aspects of the Elizabethan style, such as that of Ben Jonson, alive in his poetry. He wrote on a range of subjects, effectively blending elements of past literary traditions with contemporary concerns. He could be characterized as a poet of World War II in the sense that the war remained central to his writing. As late as the “New Poems” in the Collected Poems published in 1997, Bowers dealt with the way the war had changed his perceptions of life. Technically, he is a postwar poet, having published his first book of verse, written after the war, in 1956. Bowers never attempted to reconcile the war’s experiences with his situation, nor did he moralize about the wrongs of war. His use of the war was as setting and a platform for deeper reflection on human nature and the way circumstances affect the course of life.

For someone who was counted in the company of such notable poets as Howard Nemerov and Louis Simpson, Bowers received little critical attention after the publication of Yvor Winters’s 1967 book that discussed him. Bowers’s verse is the work of a serious observer of himself and human nature. The poetry is marked by its keen attention to details in both physical and abstract nature. The poems have great range and often accumulate information from various sources, which enables the poems to appeal to a variety of readers.

The Form of Loss

Published in 1956, The Form of Loss has twenty-six poems composed between 1947 and 1955. “To the Reader,” which opens the collection, and “To this Book” were the last poems written in 1955. The primary images in the book are derived from nature. Bowers uses the image of snow, for example, to show mutability.

The Form of Loss demonstrates Bowers’s use of rhetorical figures, stanza forms, rhymes, and meters in an unobtrusive manner in these poems based on his travels, his Army experiences, and his personal life. In the poem “Dark Earth and Summer,” Bowers uses an alternating rhyme in the quatrains to counterpoint the words in the unrhymed lines to great effect. “To W. A. Mozart” is based on the time Bowers found himself in a German castle, where he was able to play a tune on Mozart’s own clavier.

Other poems in the collection are topical, bringing together Bowers’s interests in the lives of his friends, historical subjects, and the arts. “The Prince,” a poem praised by Winters, combines the themes that dominate the book—time, loss, perception, and perspective—with a formal elegance and expertise. The poem is a dramatic monologue spoken by a father whose son has been executed as a spy in wartime. The title of the collection comes from “The Prince” as he says, “My son, who was the heir/ To every hope and trust grew out of caring,/ Into the form of loss as I had done,/ And then betrayed me who betrayed him first.”

The Astronomers

Bowers’s 1965 collection of fifteen poems, The Astronomers, was dedicated to his mother and his aunts, who were formative influences in his education. The majority of these poems were written in Santa Barbara, after Bowers assumed his faculty position. Blank verse dominates the collection, as rhyme recedes and the poems become more conversational and evenly paced.

Death and the passage of time continue as important themes in this book. Two poems that stand out in this book are the sonnet “The Mirror,” in which the poet-speaker addresses his father and their similarities in personality, and “Autumn Shade,” a poem of ten numbered sections. The poem describes the sensations of coming home, the loss of innocence associated with aging, lost childhood, and the passage of time as the personality of the speaker has been changed by time, death, and experiences. The poem is rich in natural imagery, philosophical...

(The entire section is 1801 words.)