Louis Coxe Analysis

Other literary forms

Louis Coxe, a career academic, published extensively in academic journals on a wide variety of literary subjects as well as on his own philosophy of poetry; a number of these essays were gathered in Enabling Acts: Selected Essays in Criticism (1976). As a student at Princeton University in the late 1930’s, Coxe first read the poetry of Edwin Arlington Robinson and was impressed enough to make him the topic of his senior thesis. His interpretive biography of Robinson, published in 1962, remains one of the most astute (and eloquent) analyses of Robinson’s achievement. Coxe’s widest recognition came from his coauthorship (along with Robert Chapman) of Billy Budd, a 1951 Broadway production of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Foretopman (1924). The adaptation was widely hailed for its lyrical grace and its vivid theatricality (it was later made into a successful film). Coxe wrote other lesser plays, most of them about historic events, for regional repertory companies.


In an era in which poets used verse to interrogate their own emotional lives or to conduct elaborate theoretical investigations and experiments into language and form, Louis Coxe produced a substantial body of poetry that harked back to an earlier era. His poetry employed the rigors of traditional rhythm and rhyme to explore the implications of moral dilemmas by positioning the poet or a vividly drawn historical character in a situation in which the narrator must confront questions of good and evil in a frighteningly empty cosmic universe. Whether writing about his experiences in the U.S. Navy during World War II or the New England countryside that he loved, Coxe found little comfort in nature and grew to despair of humanity’s best attempts at nobility. For decades, Coxe was largely in the minority—he published in small if prestigious journals, periodically gathering his poems in slender volumes. Not surprisingly, Coxe’s conservative poetry was routinely dismissed as old-fashioned and overly wrought; however, in 1977, when Coxe was named a fellow by the Academy of American Poets, a younger generation of readers came to appreciate his density of theme and subtlety of craft. His subsequent volume of selected poems, Passage, reached his widest audience.


Coxe, Louis. Edwin Arlington Robinson: The Life of Poetry. New York: Pegasus, 1969. More than any of Coxe’s critical works, this introduction to Robinson, the poet most responsible for shaping Coxe’s assumptions about the craft of poetry, reads like a defense of Coxe’s own versification. Underscores Robinson’s occasions of heroic resistance to a universe that appears chaotic.

Howe, Marvin. “Louis O. Coxe, Seventy-five: His Poems Reflected New England Roots.” The New York Times, May 28, 1993, p. A21. This obituary contains a brief biography and notes that Coxe’s poetry was written in the tradition of Robinson.

McGovern, Robert. “Louis Coxe: Misplaced Poet.” Hollins Critic 17, no. 2 (April, 1980): 1-15. Important reading of Coxe that defines the integrity of his vision and his poetic craft. Focuses on Coxe’s longer historical narratives and sees parallels to epics of moral corruption by both Melville and Conrad.

Shain, Charles E., and Samuella Shain, eds. The Maine Reader. 1990. Reprint. Boston: David R. Godine, 1997. This anthology of works portraying Maine includes some poetry by Coxe as well as a short biography.

Shaw, Robert B. Blank Verse: A Guide to Its History and Use. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007. Although it does not specifically deal with Coxe, this is an accessible guide to the form Coxe most often employed. Provides helpful context to understanding the achievement of blank verse and investigates modern and contemporary examples.

Steele, Timothy. Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt Against Meter. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990. Defines the modernists’ rebellion against rhythm and rhyme and argues that the revolution was wrongheaded. Outlines vividly the contentious artistic climate in which Coxe’s poetry must be read.