Frederick Morgan

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Hayden Carruth

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Frederick Morgan's poems are gratifyingly miscellaneous and adventuresome, both in content and form, but they are almost all easy to read, open, clear. They themselves contain what information is needed to understand them, and they are not cluttered with metaphor. Yet at the same time, they are poems, not the versified prose we see so much of today. They are musical, rhythmic, inventive. In short they are well-written, in the sense once common among people who knew something about prosody—literate people—but now often ignored.

Beyond this, what kind of poet is he? I suppose if a label must be chosen, that of "religious poet" fits Morgan better than any other, though only if one makes immediate qualifications. He is not ideologically minded at all, for instance, not in the high-pressure convention of Newman, Hopkins and Eliot, and hence never speaks with their tone, unmistakable if unintentional, of condescension and assertiveness…. Instead Morgan's religious feeling, as nearly as I can make out, is undifferentiated Protestantism of the gentler sort, though he has his dark side too and at times can write in the voice of the avenger. Mostly my impression is of a man settled in his faith, and happy in it. He is a poet who can write good-humoredly about almost anything, even cataclysm…. Sometimes Morgan's willingness to account for cataclysm seems even complacent, at least to a reader whose religious orientation is different from his, until one sees that Morgan is working—and living—in an order of sensibility foreign to ours. Yet it is not unfamiliar. After all, the downfall of this world, soon or late, has been accepted as the inevitable and proper order of things by human beings of every time and place except our own….

Morgan accepts it, and he accepts much else as well. He can even contemplate good-naturedly the thing that has been anathema to other poets since the beginning, viz. the termination of his own poetry…. Acceptance and quietness and something to think about, to reread and ponder—these are the properties of many of Morgan's poems of faith. And so are the simplicity and lucidity which he gives to a complex statement without compromising its poetic values.

But generalizations are dangerous. Best to settle for the generalization Morgan himself gives us in the title of his new book, Poems of the Two Worlds…. That is it: his poems are about this world and about—what shall we call it? The world of spirit, of ideal being, of the greater Self? Sometimes Morgan calls it simply the "world of the dead." In his poems it is all these and more, and above all it is present, it is here…. Morgan's poems are filled with episodes of good living, of love and lust, of pleasure in his environment, both natural and urban. I should say he is very much of a man-of-the world … in either world. (p. 23)

[Poems of the Two Worlds shows] that Morgan's rapid evolution has continued: the new poems are freer still, yet in another sense better controlled. They are freer in verbal technique, better controlled in structure…. Traces of Morgan's older manner remain in some poems, and a few are spoiled by artifice or archaic diction, but his best poems are direct, clear and moving.

These best are, I think, his legends. And this is where the better control of structure is apparent. Of course it isn't merely a question of structure, as if structure could be imposed on a poem; it can't. It is a question of the poem's primordial conceiving, so to speak, of the way a...

(This entire section contains 816 words.)

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poet imagines the whole substance of his poem, quite apart from language. Morgan is good at seeing, in the narrative of simple episode, just the point at which its poetic value—the human and moral meaning—emerges….

I do detect in Morgan's poetry a (perhaps vestigial) conflict between simplicity and mystery. The other world is always present to him, yet in some sense it is always secret; hence the temptation of esotericism and all that it entails—medievalism, abstract interpretation, the shadow-play of words and numbers, etc. Sometimes the apparatus of religious insight solidifies into mere manner, such as archaic diction and fabular artifice, and then, as I've said already, his poems are spoiled. Yet perhaps this same instinct for hidden meanings is what permits Morgan to see the possibilities of simple statement….

The two worlds and all their meanings subsist in the consciousness of mankind, at least as far as we can tell for sure. Frederick Morgan prompts us to know that consciousness more fully, in all its mysterious capacities, and then shows us how this can be done. It is a productive and brave accomplishment. (p. 24)

Hayden Carruth, "Frederick Morgan: An Appreciation," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1976 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 174, No. 20, May 15, 1976, pp. 23-4.


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