Louise Bogan Essay - Bogan, Louise

Bogan, Louise


Louise Bogan 1897–1970

American poet, critic, editor, and translator.

A major American lyric poet whose darkly romantic verse is characterized by her use of traditional structures, concise language, and vivid description, Bogan is recognized particularly for her honest and austere rendering of emotion. Douglas L. Peterson noted that she wrote "mainly of highly personal and painful experience—of personal losses suffered through death and the betrayal of intimate and deeply valued personal relationships, of time passing and of her acute awareness of the fragility of all things caught in time." Bogan's work is often compared with the short lyrics of such seventeenth-century poets as Thomas Campion, John Dryden, and Ben Jonson, and she shares with these writers an emphasis on musicality and craftsmanship as well as a subdued sense of grief and despair. Also a distinguished critic who served as a poetry editor for the New Yorker from 1931 to 1970, Bogan is known for her exacting standards and her penetrating analyses of many of the major poets of the twentieth century.

Biographical Information

Bogan's personal life was marked by turbulence and instability. Her mother was prone to unpredictable and often violent behavior and would periodically abandon her family, sometimes to engage in extramarital affairs. Bogan entered her first marriage in part to escape her unstable home life, but the relationship ended shortly after the birth of a daughter in 1917; a 1925 marriage also failed. During these traumatic years, Bogan experienced severe depressions, for which she underwent psychoanalysis and was briefly and voluntarily institutionalized. Although these experiences are considered central to the development of her personal and artistic vision, many of Bogan's poems are objectively distanced from the events of her life and instead focus upon the resulting psychological and emotional states. Extolling the significance of Bogan's verse at a memorial tribute in 1970, W. H. Auden stated: "What, aside from their technical excellence, is most impressive about her poems is the unflinching courage with which she faced her problems, her determination never to surrender to self-pity, but to wrest beauty and joy out of dark places."

Major Works

Bogan's initial poems were published in Poetry magazine in 1922 and were subsequently included in her first collection, Body of This Death (1923). Concerned with such

themes as betrayal, the limitations of time and beauty, and the relationship between knowledge and passion, these poems have been viewed as a young woman's examination of the trials of heart and mind. Dark Summer (1929) gathers the most significant poems from Bogan's first books as well as several new poems. Progressing toward a more purely lyrical mode, the new pieces expand upon her concerns with love, betrayal, passion, and wisdom. The collection The Sleeping Fury (1937) contains some of Bogan's most highly regarded and frequently anthologized poems, including "Italian Morning," "Roman Fountain," and "Kept." Poems and New Poems (1941) comprises works gathered from Bogan's three previous books and a selection of sixteen new pieces in which she occasionally experiments with meter and rhyme. Although the new poems are generally considered less successful than the poems in The Sleeping Fury, Babette Deutsch described Poems and New Poems as a volume "distinguished by the testimony it bears to the integrity of so accomplished a poet." Bogan's most successful writing from her previous volumes appear with several new poems in Collected Poems, 1923–1953 (1954). The last volume of poetry Bogan published during her lifetime, The Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923–1968 (1968), adds twelve pieces to Collected Poems.

Critical Reception

Early in her career, Bogan received attention primarily for the technical expertise of her verse. In 1937 Allen Tate stated: "In addition to distinguished diction and a fine ear for the phrase-rhythm, she has mastered a prosody that permits her to get the greatest effect out of the slightest variation of stress." Most critics have observed that later in her career Bogan expressed an increased concern with weighty psychological and emotional issues, particularly in an attempt to confront difficult personal themes relating to inner conflict. Bogan's verse is not identified with any particular poetic school or movement, and for this reason some commentators assert that she has received less extensive critical appraisal than she would have otherwise.

Principal Works


Body of This Death 1923

Dark Summer 1929

The Sleeping Fury 1937

Poems and New Poems 1941

Collected Poems, 1923–1953 1954

The Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923–68 1968

Other Major Works

Achievement in American Poetry, 1900–1950 (criticism) 1951

Selected Criticism: Prose, Poetry (criticism) 1955

The Golden Journey: Poems for Young People [editor with William Jay Smith] (poetry) 1965

A Poet's Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art and Vocation (essays) 1970

What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan (letters) 1973

Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Bogan, a Mosaic (autobiography) 1980


Mark Van Doren (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: "Louise Bogan," in The Nation, New York, Vol. CXVII, No. 3043, October 31, 1923, p. 494.

[Van Doren was one of the most prolific men of letters in twentieth-century American writing. His work includes poetry (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940), novels, short stories, drama, criticism, social commentary, and the editing of a number of popular anthologies. He has written accomplished studies of Shakespeare, John Dryden, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau, and served as the literary editor and film critic for the Nation during the 1920s and 1930s. In the following review, Van Doren praises Body of This Death and remarks on the imagery in the collection.]

It is impossible to say what these twenty-seven poems [in Body of This Death] are, and it would be difficult to say what they are like. The temptation is to speak of them only in images, for they are not susceptible to paraphrase; they take effect directly upon the imagination. One thing about them, however, seems plainly, prosaically sure. The thirty pages which they cover are packed as tightly with pure poetry as any thirty pages have been for a generation. The poet would be rare at any time who could achieve so much concentration and so unquestionably sustain it. Practically every one of these bare, stricken lines is suggestive of riches; the words dig deep, bringing up odors of earth and life that will live a long time in the memory. There is no rhetoric—hardly a phrase could be reduced by a word—but there is the sheer eloquence of passion; there is no tunefulness, but there is music "from music's root," "a fine noise of riven things."

Under a diversity of forms Miss Bogan has expressed herself with an almost awful singleness. Again, however, it is impossible to say what it is she has said;...

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Robert L. Wolf (essay date 1924)

SOURCE: "Impassioned Austerity," in Poetry, Vol. XXIII, No. 6, March, 1924, pp. 335–38.

[In the following review, Wolf avers that the language in Body of This Death is often inadequate for the meaning Bogan tries to convey.]

Louise Bogan's Body of This Death has more than anything else the quality of direct, simple, almost cruel statement. In a kind of contained twilight frenzy, without excuse or hesitation, the poet lays her hand deliberately upon the central key of a mood, and follows her own instruction:

Then, for every passion's sake,
Beat upon it till it break.


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Yvor Winters (essay date 1929)

SOURCE: "The Poetry of Louise Bogan," in The New Republic, Vol. LX, No. 776, October 16, 1929, pp. 247–48.

[Winters was a prominent American poet and critic whose works evince his conviction that all good literature necessarily serves a conscious moral purpose. In his first critical study, Primitivism and Decadence (1937), Winters outlined this principle, asserting that a poem's success lies in its ability to express a strong moral thesis through a combination of rhythm, emotion, and motivation. In the following review of Dark Summer, he assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Bogan's poetry.]

This [Dark Summer] Miss Bogan's second volume,...

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Ford Madox Ford (essay date 1937)

SOURCE: "The Flame in Stone," in Poetry, Vol. L, No. 3, June, 1937, pp. 158–61.

[Ford was an English literary figure who played an important role in the development of twentieth-century Realistic and Modernist literature and art. In 1908 he founded the English Review, a periodical generally considered the finest literary journal of its day during Ford's brief tenure as editor. Ford later established the Transatlantic Review and produced such works as The Good Soldier (1915) and the tetralogy Parade's End (1924–28)—novels concerned with the social, political, and moral decline of Western civilization. In the following review, he states that he intuitively...

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Babette Deutsch (essay date 1941)

SOURCE: "Collected Lyrics New and Older," in New York Herald Tribune Books, December 28, 1941, p. 8.

[Deutsch was an American poet, critic, novelist, and translator. Although some critics find her poetry stresses intellect to the detriment of emotion, her work is generally well-received. Deutsch's Poetry in Our Time (1952) is a respected study of modern poetry. In the following review, she compares Poems and New Poems to the work of earlier poets and expresses approval that Bogan has not changed her style to conform to current literary fashion.]

In the four years that have elapsed since her last volume was published, Miss Bogan, working with her...

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W. H. Auden (essay date 1942)

SOURCE: "The Rewards of Patience," in Partisan Review, Vol. IX, No. 4, July-August, 1942, pp. 336–40.

[Often considered the poetic successor of W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot, Auden is also highly regarded for his literary criticism. As a member of a generation of British writers strongly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, Auden considered social and psychological commentary important functions of literary criticism. As a committed Christian, he viewed art in the context of moral and theological absolutes. While he has been criticized for significant inconsistencies in his thought throughout his career, Auden is generally regarded as a fair and perceptive critic. In the...

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Babette Deutsch (essay date 1952)

SOURCE: "The Ghostly Member," in Poetry in Our Time, 1952. Reprint by Columbia University Press, 1956, pp. 220–53.

[In the following excerpt, Deutsch discusses the themes and spirit of Bogan's poetry.]

Miss Bogan's themes are the reasons of the heart that reason does not know, the eternal strangeness of time in its periods and its passage, the curious power of art. Her mood is oftenest a sombre one, relieved not by gaiety but by a sardonic wit. She is primarily a lyricist. Not for nothing does the word "song" recur repeatedly in her titles, as, among others, "Juan's Song," "Chanson Un Peu Naïve," "Song for a Slight Voice," "Song for a Lyre," "Spirit's Song." It is...

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Elder Olson (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: "Louise Bogan and Léonie Adams," in On Value Judgments in the Arts, and Other Essays, The University of Chicago Press, 1976, pp. 36–49.

[An American educator, critic, and poet, Olson is a prominent member of what has been called the neo-Aristotelian school, which emerged at the University of Chicago in the 1940s. Members of this group share the belief that the principles set down by Aristotle in his Poetics can be applied to contemporary literature, thereby allowing a critic to determine the composite effect of a literary work through analysis of its differentiable artistic parts such as plot, character, thought, diction. In the following excerpt from an essay that was...

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William Dickey (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: A review of The Blue Estuaries, in Hudson Review, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Summer, 1969, pp. 364, 366, 368.

[Dickey is an American poet and critic whose verse is surprisingly varied in mood, voice, and theme, often fluctuating between humorous and serious observations on life. In the following excerpt, he asserts that Bogan's careful, spare treatment of language enabled the creation of enlightening poetry in The Blue Estuaries.]

The Blue Estuaries reprints the contents of Louise Bogan's Collected Poems of 1953, and adds a dozen poems presumably subsequent to that work. The new poems do not alter Miss Bogan's tone or her concerns: they stress again...

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Patrick Moore (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "Symbol, Mask, and Meter in the Poetry of Louise Bogan," in Gender and Literary Voice, edited by Janet Todd, Holmes & Meier Publishers, Inc., 1980, pp. 67–80.

[In the following essay, Moore assesses the relationship between Bogan's feminist views and the verse forms and literary conventions she employed in her poetry.]

Styles are symptoms. This is hardly a new idea, of course. Scholars have used this assumption for generations in their studies of painting, music, sculpture, architecture, and literature. But such an assumption is particularly useful in studying women's writing because one of the goals of feminist criticism is to discover what feminist...

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Douglas L. Peterson (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: "The Poetry of Louise Bogan," in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. 19, No. 1, January, 1983, pp. 73–87.

[An American critic and educator specializing in Renaissance literature, Peterson is the author of The English Lyric from Wyatt to Donne (1967). In the following essay, he traces the connection between the themes and formal aspects of Bogan's verse.]

In the years following the publication of Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923–68 Louise Bogan has been all but forgotten. The reasons are obvious enough. She was a formalist during a time when the main lines of development in American poetry were radically experimental. There is...

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Mary DeShazer (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: '"My Scourge, My Sister': Louise Bogan's Muse," in Coming to Light: American Women Poets in the Twentieth Century, edited by Diane Wood Middlebrook and Marilyn Yalom, The University of Michigan Press, 1985, pp. 92–104.

[In the following essay, DeShazer examines the inspiration and defining qualities of Bogan's poetic voice.]

"What makes a writer?" Louise Bogan asks in a lecture given at New York University during the 1960s. Rejecting the "purist" notion of a passionate love for the act of writing in itself, she explores such contributing factors as intellectual power, talent, and, in particular, "gift."

It is a gift that I...

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Cheryl Walker (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: "Women and the Retreat to the Mind: Louise Bogan and the Stoic Persona," in Masks Outrageous and Austere: Culture, Psyche, and Persona in Modern Women Poets, Indiana University Press, 1991, pp. 165–90.

[An American critic and educator, Walker is the author of The Nightingale's Burden: Women Poets and American Culture before 1900 (1982), in which she studies verse as an outlet for the anxiety of women coping in "a predominantly masculine culture. " in the following excerpt, Walker addresses Bogan's use of an intellectually detached, stoic persona in her verse as a guard against emotional vulnerability.]

"Henceforth, from the mind," wrote Louise Bogan in...

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Marcia Aldrich (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: "Lethal Brevity: Louise Bogan's Lyric Career," in Aging and Gender in Literature: Studies in Creativity, edited by Anne M. Wyatt-Brown and Janice Rossen, University Press of Virginia, 1993, pp. 105–20.

[In the following essay, Aldrich explores Bogan's inability to overcome the notion that a woman's artistic ability is linked to her youthfulness and sexual energy; Aldrich contends that this belief is reflected in Bogan's poetry.]

The modernist poet Louise Bogan never wrote poetry easily or voluminously. Over her lifetime she published 105 collected poems, most of them written while she was in her twenties or thirties. The Sleeping Fury, published in...

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Further Reading


Knox, Claire E. Louise Bogan: A Reference Source. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1990, 315 p.

Annotated guide to works by and about Bogan.


Frank, Elizabeth. Louise Bogan: A Portrait. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985, 460 p.

Reconstructs the events of Bogan's life while admitting the hurdle posed by the author's privacy; according to Frank, Bogan was "a woman whose passion for reticence bordered on obsession."


Bowles, Gloria. Louise Bogan's...

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