Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968, Louise Bogan’s final collection, contains 105 poems and spans the entire body of her adult work. The book’s six-part division corresponds to the six volumes of poems that Bogan published between 1923 and 1968. As a body of work, the poems express the poet’s quest for the secrets of the buried self, or unconscious, specifically to make her peace with the frustrations of romantic love (and the persistent sense of loss and betrayal associated with it) and with her traumatic childhood.

The opening poem, “A Tale,” establishes the quest theme and the sea voyage as its metaphor and introduces the reader to Bogan’s landscapes of the unconscious. The speaker is a youth who sets out on the voyage of life. The poem predicts that the youth will discover in this uncharted psychological territory hellish landscapes of fiery deserts and enigmatic presences, “Where something dreadful and another/ Look quietly upon each other.” The Blue Estuaries concludes with an enigmatic poem, “Masked Woman’s Song.” The poem and its placement at the end of the volume suggest that at journey’s end, the woman still wears the mask of sexual obsession, as she encounters the dangerous erotic “other,” which in this poem takes the form of a male statue. Other poems throughout the body of her work try to come to terms with childhood violence, especially in relation to her mother, by exploring the terrain of the unconscious mind in dream and nightmare and, more rarely, by direct or oblique reference.

Bogan considered herself a formalist poet, writing brief, intense lyric poems in rhyme and meter, though she also worked in longer narrative forms as well. Her poems deal with the most intimate and painful personal details, but they are often carefully distanced from their subject by the mask of persona as well as by their compressed lyric forms. Form and persona, metaphor and symbol, rather than directly autobiographical address, combine to produce the beauty and power of these lyric poems, but also make them obscure and perhaps keep the reader at a distance.