About the details of her life, Louise Marie Bogan maintained a deliberate and consistent reticence. However, she also claimed that she had written a searching account of her life; it was all in her poetry, she said, with only the vulgar particulars omitted. The information available about her life substantiates her claim.
The earliest theme to emerge in Bogan’s life is the struggle for order amidst chaos and violence. She was born in Livermore Falls, Maine, on August 11, 1897, the second child and only daughter of Mary Helen Shields and Daniel J. Bogan. During the next twelve years, the family lived variously in Milton and Manchester, New Hampshire, and in Ballardvale, Massachusetts, before settling, in 1910, in Boston. Life was characterized by extremes of physical and psychological violence between the parents, and between mother and children. Although Bogan’s father is almost totally absent from her recollections, her mother, a woman of elegance, taste, and ferocious temper, imposed an unpredictable and almost overwhelming presence on the young girl’s life. There are startling gaps in memory: an unexplained year in a convent boarding school, two days of blindness at the age of eight. The convent year, the boardinghouse in Ballardvale, and an art teacher in Boston, however, represented relief from the constant struggle for sanity and order in the chaotic Bogan household. As a child, Louise relished the soothing atmosphere of order, cleanliness, and competence found in the boardinghouse, and later the enchantment of Miss Cooper’s studio with its precious trinkets and carefully ordered tools. During her teens, Bogan’s five years at Boston’s Girls’ Latin School enlarged her experience of both discipline and disorder; it was here that she received the thorough classical education she treasured so, and here that she encountered firsthand the vigorous New England Protestant bigotry against the Irish. To her classmates, Bogan was a “Mick,” and she kept this...
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Louise Bogan, one of the last of the important formalist poets writing in the United States in the twentieth century, was also a literary critic and translator. Although she earned great honor and respect from other poets, many of whom credit her influence for their own success, her work never reached a wide popular audience during her lifetime; the body of her work is small, and her poems are complex and difficult.
She attended private schools in and around Boston and began writing poetry when she was about fourteen years old. She published her first poems in 1915 in the Boston University Beacon. She stayed in college for only one year before marrying and traveling to the Panama Canal Zone with her military husband. There she had a daughter, her only child, but she and her husband soon separated. She continued to write, and in 1922 went to Vienna on a Guggenheim Fellowship.
By this time she had written and published a large number of poems and was well-known to readers of literary journals. Her first book of poetry, Body of This Death, appeared in 1923. Many of the twenty-seven poems hinge on a central pair of opposites: heart and mind, striving and meaninglessness, social order and selfhood, admiration and resentment. Sixteen of the poems deal with the difficulties of love from a woman’s perspective. Bogan had come to believe that men and women were by nature incapable of forging true relationships. The tone of these works is satiric, even bitter.
Some found many of the poems hard to understand, the vocabulary difficult, the symbolism obscure. However, many poets admired the work because of its clear and honest...
(The entire section is 681 words.)