Louise Bogan 1897–1970
American poet, critic, editor, and translator.
A major American lyric poet whose darkly romantic verse is characterized by her use of traditional structures, concise language, and vivid description, Bogan is recognized particularly for her honest and austere rendering of emotion. Douglas L. Peterson noted that she wrote "mainly of highly personal and painful experience—of personal losses suffered through death and the betrayal of intimate and deeply valued personal relationships, of time passing and of her acute awareness of the fragility of all things caught in time." Bogan's work is often compared with the short lyrics of such seventeenth-century poets as Thomas Campion, John Dryden, and Ben Jonson, and she shares with these writers an emphasis on musicality and craftsmanship as well as a subdued sense of grief and despair. Also a distinguished critic who served as a poetry editor for the New Yorker from 1931 to 1970, Bogan is known for her exacting standards and her penetrating analyses of many of the major poets of the twentieth century.
Bogan's personal life was marked by turbulence and instability. Her mother was prone to unpredictable and often violent behavior and would periodically abandon her family, sometimes to engage in extramarital affairs. Bogan entered her first marriage in part to escape her unstable home life, but the relationship ended shortly after the birth of a daughter in 1917; a 1925 marriage also failed. During these traumatic years, Bogan experienced severe depressions, for which she underwent psychoanalysis and was briefly and voluntarily institutionalized. Although these experiences are considered central to the development of her personal and artistic vision, many of Bogan's poems are objectively distanced from the events of her life and instead focus upon the resulting psychological and emotional states. Extolling the significance of Bogan's verse at a memorial tribute in 1970, W. H. Auden stated: "What, aside from their technical excellence, is most impressive about her poems is the unflinching courage with which she faced her problems, her determination never to surrender to self-pity, but to wrest beauty and joy out of dark places."
Bogan's initial poems were published in Poetry magazine in 1922 and were subsequently included in her first collection, Body of This Death (1923). Concerned with such
themes as betrayal, the limitations of time and beauty, and the relationship between knowledge and passion, these poems have been viewed as a young woman's examination of the trials of heart and mind. Dark Summer (1929) gathers the most significant poems from Bogan's first books as well as several new poems. Progressing toward a more purely lyrical mode, the new pieces expand upon her concerns with love, betrayal, passion, and wisdom. The collection The Sleeping Fury (1937) contains some of Bogan's most highly regarded and frequently anthologized poems, including "Italian Morning," "Roman Fountain," and "Kept." Poems and New Poems (1941) comprises works gathered from Bogan's three previous books and a selection of sixteen new pieces in which she occasionally experiments with meter and rhyme. Although the new poems are generally considered less successful than the poems in The Sleeping Fury, Babette Deutsch described Poems and New Poems as a volume "distinguished by the testimony it bears to the integrity of so accomplished a poet." Bogan's most successful writing from her previous volumes appear with several new poems in Collected Poems, 1923–1953 (1954). The last volume of poetry Bogan published during her lifetime, The Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923–1968 (1968), adds twelve pieces to Collected Poems.
Early in her career, Bogan received attention primarily for the technical expertise of her verse. In 1937 Allen Tate stated: "In addition to distinguished diction and a fine ear for the phrase-rhythm, she has mastered a prosody that permits her to get the greatest effect out of the slightest variation of stress." Most critics have observed that later in her career Bogan expressed an increased concern with weighty psychological and emotional issues, particularly in an attempt to confront difficult personal themes relating to inner conflict. Bogan's verse is not identified with any particular poetic school or movement, and for this reason some commentators assert that she has received less extensive critical appraisal than she would have otherwise.