Frederick Morgan Laurence Lieberman - Essay

Laurence Lieberman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

On nearly every page of Frederick Morgan's A Book of Change, I feel that I come into touch with a lively, warm human being through the poetry. Though in some sections of this ambitious and expansive poetic sequence the pressure of human feeling overtakes the formal structuring of lines and stanzas, how refreshing it is to read a premiere volume in which the sheer quantity of erupting life overwhelms the literary boundaries, at times….

Morgan, [the] founding editor of The Hudson Review,… has shifted the focus of much of [his] energetic brilliance—in midcareer—from the editorial platform to the swift unfolding of a full-fledged mature poetics of his own. Though for some twenty-odd years Morgan had written, intermittently, successful—if undistinguished—original verse and some passable translations, his poetic art has taken a breathtakingly sudden upswing in the last few years, and he leaps into prominence in this first collection as an important writer in the current scene…. Morgan's zest and unguarded forthrightness of delivery insure the distinctiveness of his voice and measure. He appears to have assimilated an impressive blend of influences and orthodoxies without strain: so many ideas and presences, epiphanies and personages and beings—demonic, angelic, and mortal—are falling all over each other in the struggle to be born, any derivative elements of Morgan's style are burned away as he amplifies his medium and stretches the skin of the work to contain so much eruption of newly awakened life…. (p. 280)

In "The Smile," as in a number of the other best love poems to [his wife,] Paula, Morgan achieves a rare discipline, the power to step back far enough into oneself—during moments of profound intimacy—to pass through the self and move beyond into a condition of spirit in which even the beloved may be witnessed purely, freshly, and accurately. At such moments, a supernatural radiance lifts the usual film of haziness from the lover's eyes, and all is seen with a final clarity—even those humans closest to us—such as we suppose may be afforded only to ghosts returning from the dead. Our eyes seem to pass through themselves into another life, beyond sight into a second seeing…. His abstracted vision is half human, half transhuman, modeled after the smile described. Second sight has...

(The entire section is 968 words.)