Carruth, Hayden 1921–
Carruth is an American poet, novelist, critic, and editor. His poetry is versatile in mood and verse form, rich in language, and often autobiographical. Strongly influenced by Yeats, he creates eloquent poetry, noted for its control and lyricism. Carruth calls his philosophy a "radical secular existentialism." Though considered overly formal and academic by some critics, he is praised for the sustained power and emotional intensity of his long poems. (See also CLC, Vols. 4, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
Hayden Carruth's beautiful "To Artemis" … is a poem of formal address to the moon goddess…. The poem is dignified, sharply perceived, thoughtful, translucent, and reverent. It is in free verse with irregular sections. Carruth has a good and practiced ear, and has worked in accentual-syllabic meters as well as free verse. The following passage is exciting in motion, sound, interworkings:
flakes of light whirling away, a shower—
scurrying through dark trees.
The section stands out of context because it, like the section beginning "Snow lined," is in a different kind of free verse from the rest of the poem, which is soberly conversational, having no base but several times moving toward or into rising pentameter or trimeter, as in the beautiful ending:
Whatever we are, these reflections, let us
change them now, let us be silent, cold,
let us be autonomous, bright,
in this place so remote and altered.
The metrical convention of the poem is successful but just a little soft. The two kinds of free verse do not quite accord, though transitions are graceful. The long-line free verse is not so precise an instrument for feeling and meditation as iambic pentameter, as focusedly intense as the best short-line free verse, or as powerful in its surging as the best long-line free verse.
Both in convention and thought the belief in the value of the experience is intense and genuine, seeking with stoic unsuccess for an ontological foothold. The poem illustrates something of the limits good contemporary poets are held by and resist. (p. 396)
Paul Ramsey, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1974 by The University of the South), Spring, 1974.
More a document than a poem, The Bloomingdale Papers is a meditation on the several months of lost time Hayden Carruth spent in a mental institution during the early 1950s. It was written in conditions of extreme isolation: on a typewriter, in the ward, as the author's way of helping his doctors to understand him. Now it is offered, out of context, to the "candid reader" of a different age, who can know little of the peculiar and personal circumstances that gave it a more than clinical meaning. The overall effect is jarring and yet, it must be said, moving. This is after all a report from the front. Nothing in it shines so clearly as the plain desperate need to communicate: it is this that makes Mr. Carruth's case more than a case and imparts to his predicament, for a moment, the sense of something vital and shared. Revived after a lapse of years, his lines occasionally have the offhand analytic truth and hardness of a patient-of-the-world whose trouble is that he knows the world and himself far too well. (pp. 1021-22)
An observant nature together with a sense of humor must have been what kept Mr. Carruth going through the painful journalistic task he set himself. His prose introduction, a simple but thorough act of recollection and self-scrutiny, testifies as well as anything in his book to the gift of endurance that saw him past the ordeal. (p. 1022)
David Bromwich, in The Georgia Review (copyright, 1976, by the University of Georgia), Winter, 1976.
Hayden Carruth's mottled document, The Bloomingdale Papers, opens with an appropriately horrifying apologia in prose that works: "Part of my illness was a need to do what I was told (in anger and under protest), so I did it. One of my doctors suggested that since I called myself a writer I should write something that might be helpful to him and his colleagues in their consideration of my case …" This, then, is a form of prison poetry, a genre we must not deprecate since … we are all a part of it…. (p. 228)
[Carruth] lucidly defends [the volume's] collagiste format from the reductionist label of "confessional" and underlines most vigorously its ambition and topos: "the inner condition of exile as the experience par excellence of the mid-twentieth century".
The poem begins with a blasted landscape out of Stevens: "It all begins on this November day. / The wintertime realities are thin." A dazed nostalgia reigns in a present anarchy: "Only an image ago huge puffs of green, / Tribes of birds, cities of crickets and ants, / And the tumbling sun made jocund all our eyes." An Eliotic meditation follows, in a verse well furnished with Jacobean stridency and darkness: "Our lives are close and iron-girt; we thread / Among the phantoms of this narrowed world, / We trolls and banshees …" It is an allusive and self-reflexive hysteria in the grand style: "… seeing what the guru sees in his //...
(The entire section is 441 words.)