Louise Bogan

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Allen Tate (review date Summer 1937)

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SOURCE: A review of The Sleeping Fury, in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. 3, No. 1, Summer, 1937, pp. 190-92.

[Tate was an influential American critic who was closely associated with two critical movements, the Agrarians and the New Critics. In the following excerpt, he remarks favorably on The Sleeping Fury, commenting in particular on Bogan's poetic control and craftsmanship.]

Miss Louise Bogan has published three books, and with each book she has been getting a little better, until now, in the three or four best poems of The Sleeping Fury, she has no superior within her purpose and range: among the women poets of our time she has a single peer, Miss Léonie Adams. Neither Miss Bogan nor Miss Adams will ever have the popular following of Miss [Edna St. Vincent] Millay or even of the late Elinor Wylie. I do not mean to detract from these latter poets; they are technically proficient, they are serious, and they deserve their reputations. Miss Bogan and Miss Adams deserve still greater reputations, but they will not get them in our time because they are "purer" poets than Miss Millay and Mrs. Wylie. They are purer because their work is less involved in the moral and stylistic fashions of the age, and they efface themselves; whereas Miss Millay never lets us forget her "advanced" point of view, nor Mrs. Wylie her interesting personality.

This refusal to take advantage of the traditional privilege of her sex must in part explain Miss Bogan's small production and the concentrated attention that she gives to the detail of her work. Women, I suppose, are fastidious, but many women poets are fastidious in their verse only as a way of being finical about themselves. But Miss Bogan is a craftsman in the masculine mode.

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.

        In the cold heart, as on a page,         Spell out the gentle syllable         That puts short limit to your rage         And curdles the straight fire of hell,         Compassing all, so all is well.

There is nothing flashy about it; it is finely modulated; and I think one needs only to contrast Miss Bogan's control of her imagery in this stanza, the toning down of the metaphor to the simple last line, with the metaphorical juggernaut to which Miss Field's muse has tied herself, to see the fundamental difference between mastery of an artistic medium and mere undisciplined talent. Miss Bogan reaches the height of her talent in "Hence-forth, from the Mind," surely one of the finest lyrics of our time. The "idea" of the poem is the gradual fading away of earthly joy upon the approach of age—one of the stock themes of English poetry; and Miss Bogan presents it with all the freshness of an Elizabethan lyricist. I quote the two last stanzas:

       Henceforth, from the shell,        Wherein you heard, and wondered        At oceans like a bell        So far from ocean sundered—        A smothered sound that sleeps        Long lost within lost deeps,        Will chime you change and hours,        The shadow of increase,        Will sound you flowers        Born under troubled peace—        Henceforth, henceforth        Will echo sea and earth.

This poem represents the best phase of Miss Bogan's work: it goes back to an early piece that has been neglected by readers and reviewers alike—"The Mark"—and these two poems would alone entitle Miss Bogan to the consideration of the coming age.

But there is an...

(This entire section contains 717 words.)

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unsatisfactory side to Miss Bogan's verse, and it may be briefly indicated by pointing out that the peculiar merits of "The Mark" and "Henceforth, from the Mind" seem to lie in a strict observance of certain limitations: in these poems and of course in others, Miss Bogan is impersonal and dramatic. In "The Sleeping Fury" she is philosophical and divinatory; in "Hypocrite Swift" she merely adumbrates an obscure dramatic situation in a half lyrical, half eighteenth-century, satirical style. Neither of these poems is successful, and the failure can be traced to all levels of the performances; for example, to the prosody, which has little relation to the development of the matter and which merely offers us a few clever local effects.


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Louise Bogan 1897–1970

American poet, critic, editor, and translator.

The following entry provides an overview of Bogan's career. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 39, and 46.

A major American lyric poet whose darkly romantic verse is characterized by traditional poetic structures, concise language, and vivid description, Bogan is known 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 and authored numerous works of literary criticism, Bogan is known for her exacting standards and her penetrating analyses of many of the major poets of the twentieth century.

Biographical Information

Born in Livermore Falls, Maine, Bogan's early 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. By age eight Bogan had become what she once described as "the semblance of a girl, in which some desires and illusions had been early assassinated: shot dead." Bogan's father eventually moved the family to Boston, where she attended Girls' Latin School and was trained in Greek, Latin, and classical verse. She went on to attend Boston University, but left in 1916, after only one year, to marry a young soldier. Bogan entered this marriage in part to escape her unstable home life, but the relationship ended shortly after the birth of a daughter, Mathilde, in 1917; a 1925 marriage to Raymond Holden, managing editor of the New Yorker, also failed. Bogan went to New York City in 1919, where she became friends with such writers as William Carlos Williams, Margaret Mead, and Edmund Wilson. Her poems were first published in Poetry in 1921, and in 1923 her first collection, Body of This Death, was released. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Bogan experienced severe depression, for which she underwent psychoanalysis and was voluntarily institutionalized more than once. During this time she also began to experiment with prose, producing an autobi-ographical trilogy and writing stories and reviews for the New Yorker. Bogan won numerous awards during her lifetime, including a Guggenheim Foundation grant in 1933, the Bollingen Prize for poetry in 1955, and the Creative Award from Brandeis University in 1962. She died in 1970. Extolling the significance of Bogan's verse at a memorial tribute, 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."

Major Works

Bogan's first poetry collection, Body of This Death, concerns such themes as family, betrayal, the limitations of time and beauty, and the psychology of sexual conflict. In "Medusa," for example, Bogan describes the emotional and psychological impact of a traumatic childhood incident: "This is a dead scene forever now. / Nothing will ever stir. / The end will never brighten it more than this, / Nor the rain blur." Dark Summer (1929) gathers the most significant poems from Bogan's first book 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. Included among the new poems are "The Mark," "Come Break with Time," and "Seasonal Autumnal," works which Yvor Winters once stated would "demand … comparison with the best songs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries." The collection The Sleeping Fury (1937), Bogan's last whole book of original verse, contains some of her most highly regarded and frequently anthologized poems, including "Italian Morning," "Roman Fountain," and "Kept." Cheryl Walker has noted that The Sleeping Fury is "a volume in which [Bogan's] several conceptions of mind—as psyche, as intellect, and intuition—come together." 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. Bogan's most successful writing from her previous volumes appears 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. In addition to her poetry, Bogan published numerous volumes of literary criticism, including Achievement in American Poetry (1951), Selected Criticism (1955), and A Poet's Alphabet (1970); a collection of letters, What the Woman Lived (1973); and an autobiography, Journey around My Room (1980).

Critical Reception

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 have asserted that she has received less extensive critical appraisal than she would have otherwise. Recent criticism has tended to focus on Bogan's poetic voice, her contributions to the development of feminine verse, and the complexity of her themes. Cheryl Walker has stated that "all we can state with certainty is that Louise Bogan succeeded in creating some superb lyrics. She never prostituted her talent and what she has left us has a granitic edge. If her opus is small, it is also durable." Reaction to Bogan's critical works has been favorable, with reviewers praising her knowledge, clarity, and comprehensiveness. One review of Achievement in American Poetry stated that "like all Miss Bogan's criticism, this book is full of acute, spirited, and authoritative judgments of writers and works, expressed with grace and wit." Bogan's collection of letters and autobiography, although posthumously published, were also well received, with critics noting they provide invaluable insights into Bogan's life and writings. Writing about Journey around My Room, William Pritchard has stated: "Louise Bogan wanted her poetry to stand alone, free from the facts of her biography though deeply informed by them. But this mosaic, in some of its juxtapositions of prose and poems, helped me to a sharper sense of how good a poet she could be."

Louise Bogan with Ruth Limmer (interview date Fall 1939)

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SOURCE: "The Situation in American Writing: Seven Questions," in Critical Essays on Louise Bogan, edited by Martha Collins, G. K. Hall & Co., 1984, pp. 49-53.

[Limmer is an editor who compiled Bogan's A Poet's Alphabet and What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan, 1920–1970. The following is Bogan's response to a questionnaire that was submitted to a number of American writers; it was originally published in the Partisan Review in Fall 1939. Bogan comments on her writing, literary criticism, and American society.]

[Limmer]: Are you conscious, in your own writing, of the existence of a "usable past"? Is this mostly American? What figures would you designate as elements in it? Would you say, for example, that Henry James's work is more relevant to the present and future of American writing than Walt Whitman's?

[Bogan]: Because what education I received came from New England schools, before 1916, my usable past has more of a classic basis than it would have today, even in the same background. The courses in English Literature which I encountered during my secondary education and one year of college were not very nutritious. But my "classical" education was severe, and I read Latin prose and poetry and Xenophon and the Iliad, during my adolescence. Arthur Symons' The Symbolist Movement, and the French poets read at its suggestion, were strong influences experienced before I was twenty. The English metaphysicals (disinterred after 1912 and a literary fashion during my twenties) provided another literary pattern, and. Yeats influenced my writing from 1916, when I first read Responsibilities.—The American writers to whom I return are Poe (the Tales), Thoreau, E. Dickinson and Henry James. Whitman, read at sixteen, with much enthusiasm, I do not return to, and I never drew any refreshment from his "thought." Henry James I discovered late, and I read him for the first time with the usual prejudices against him, absorbed from the inadequate criticism he has generally received. It was not until I had developed some independent critical judgment that I recognized him as a great and subtle artist. If civilization and great art mean complexity rather than simplification, and if the humane can be defined as the well understood because the well-explored, James' work is certainly more relevant to American writing, present and future, than the naive vigor and sentimental "thinking" of Whitman.

Do you think of yourself as writing for a definite audience? If so, how would you describe this audience? Would you say that the audience for serious American writing has grown or contracted in the last ten years?

I have seldom thought about a definite "audience" for my poetry, and I certainly have never believed that the wider the audience, the better the poetry. Poetry had a fairly wide audience during what was roughly known as the "American poetic renaissance." It has been borne in upon me, in the last ten years, that there are only a few people capable of the aesthetic experience, and that, in this group, some persons who are able to appreciate "form" in the graphic arts, cannot recognize it in writing, just as there are writers who cannot "hear" music, or "see" painting. This small element in the population remains, it seems to me, more or less constant, and penetrates class distinctions. People may be led up to the threshold of the aesthetic experience, and taught its elements and its value, but I have never seen a person in whom the gift was not native actually experience the "shock of recognition" which a poem (or any work of art) gives its appreciator. And it is individuals to whom the aesthetic experience is closed, or those who know what it is, but wish to load it with a misplaced weight of "meaning" (and it seems incredible that such people as the last named exist; it is one of the horrors of life that they do)—it is such people who think that this experience can be "used."—Certainly the audience for the disinterested and the gratuitous in writing was never very large, in America. The layer of American "culture" has always been extremely thin. And it has not deepened in itself, but has been subject to fashions hastily imposed upon it. And the American "cultural" background is thick with ideas of "success" and "morality." So a piece of writing which is worth nothing, and means nothing (but itself) is, to readers at large, silly and somewhat immoral. "Serious writing" has come to mean, to the public, the pompous or thinly documentary. The truly serious piece of work, where a situation is explored at all levels, disinterestedly, for its own sake, is outlawed.

Do you place much value on the criticism your work has received? Would you agree that the corruption of the literary supplements by advertising—in the case of the newspapers—and political pressures—in the case of the liberal weeklies—has made serious literary criticism an isolated cult?

No.—The corruption of the literary supplements is nearly complete, but who would expect it to be otherwise, when publishers admit that they are selling packaged goods, for the most part: that their products, on the whole, stand on the same level as cigarettes and whiskey, as sedatives and pain-killers?—I have written criticism for liberal weeklies and can testify that in the case of one of them, no pressure of any kind has ever been put upon me. I have also been left perfectly free by a magazine which makes no claim to be anything but amusing…. Serious criticism is, now in America, seriously hampered by the extraordinarily silly, but really (on the sentimental public at large), amazingly effective under-cover methods of certain pressure groups. But if there is no one who has the good sense to see the difference between warmed-over party tracts and actual analysis—if the public swallows such stuff whole—perhaps that is what the public deserves. Perhaps there is a biological bourgeoisie, thick headed and without sensibilities, thrown up into every generation, as well as an economic one. I discovered, long ago, that there are human attributes the gods themselves, as some one has said, cannot war against, and some of them are stupidity, greed, vanity, and arrogance.

Have you found it possible to make a living by writing the sort of thing you want to, and without the aid of such crutches as teaching and editorial work? Do you think there is any place in our present economic system for literature as a profession?

I have never been able to make a living by writing poetry and it has never entered my mind that I could do so. I think the place in our present American set-up for the honest and detached professional writer is both small and cold. (But then, it was both small and cold for…. Flaubert, in 19th century France.)

Do you find, in retrospect, that your writing reveals any allegiance to any group, class, organization, region, religion, or system of thought, or do you conceive of it as mainly the expression of yourself as an individual?

My writing reveals some "allegiances" (if this term means certain marks made upon it by circumstance). I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, and was exposed to real liturgy, instead of the dreary "services" and the dreadful hymnody of the Protestant churches. There was a Celtic gift for language, and talent in the form of a remarkable excess of energy, on the maternal side of my family. And I was handed out, as I have said, a thorough secondary classical education, from the age of twelve through the age of seventeen, in the public schools of Boston. I did not know I was a member of a class until I was twenty-one; but I knew I was a member of a racial and religious minority, from an early age. One of the great shocks of my life came when I discovered that bigotry existed not only among the Catholics, but among the Protestants, whom I had thought would be tolerant and civilized (since their pretentions were always in that direction). It was borne in upon me, all during my adolescence, that I was a "Mick," no matter what my other faults or virtues might be. It took me a long time to take this fact easily, and to understand the situation which gave rise to the minor persecutions I endured at the hands of supposedly educated and humane people.—I came from the white collar class and it was difficult to erase the dangerous tendencies—the impulse to "rise" and respect "nice people"—of this class. These tendencies I have wrung out of my spiritual constitution with a great deal of success. I am proud to say.—Beyond these basic influences, I think of my writing as the expression of my own development as an individual.

How would you describe the political tendency of American writing as a whole since 1930? How do you feel about it yourself? Are you sympathetic to the current tendency towards what may be called "literary nationalism"—a renewed emphasis, largely uncritical, on the specifically "American elements in our culture?

The political tendency of American writing since 1930 is, I believe, more symptomatic of a spiritual malaise than is generally supposed. Granted that the economic crisis became grave; it is nevertheless peculiar and highly symptomatic that intellectuals having discovered that "freedom" is not enough, and does not automatically lead to depth of insight and peace of mind, threw over every scrap of their former enthusiasms, as though there were something sinful in them. The economic crisis occurred when that generation of young people was entering the thirties; and, instead of fighting out the personal ills attendant upon the transition from youth to middle age, they took refuge in closed systems of belief, and automatically (many of them) committed creative suicide…. "Literary nationalism" has valuable elements in it; it opened the eyes of writers, superficially at least, to conditions which had surrounded them from childhood, but which they had spent much effort "escaping." But when this nationalism took a fixed form (when it became more fashionable to examine the situation of the share-cropper, for example, than the situation of slum-dwellers in Chelsea, Massachusetts, or Newark, New Jersey) its value dwindled. And the closing of one foreign culture after another, to the critical and appreciative examination of students, is one deplorable result of thinking in purely political terms. Any purely chauvinistic enthusiasm is, of course, always ridiculous.

This is the place, perhaps, to state my belief that the true sincerity and compassion which humane detachment alone can give, are necessary before the writer can pass judgment upon the ills of his time. To sink oneself into a party is fatal, no matter how noble the tenets of that party may be. For all tenets tend to harden into dogma, and all dogma breeds hatred and bigotry, and is therefore stultifying. And the condescension of the political party toward the artist is always clear, however well disguised. The artist will be "given" his freedom; as though it were not the artist who "gives" freedom to the world, and not only "gives" it, but is the only person capable of enduring it, or of understanding what it costs. The artists who remain exemplars have often, it is true, become entangled in politics, but it is not their political work which we remember. Nonsense concerning the function of the arts has been tossed about for centuries. Art has been asked, again, as the wind changed, to be "romantic," "filled with sensibility," "classic," "useful," "uplifting" and whatnot. The true artist will instinctively reject "burning questions" and all "crude oppositions" which can cloud his vision or block his ability to deal with his world. All this has been fought through before now;…. Turgenev showed up the pretentions of the political critic Belinsky; Flaubert fought the battle against "usefulness" all his life; Yeats wrote the most superb anti-political poetry ever written. Flaubert wrote, in the midst of one bad political period: "Let us [as writers] remain the river and turn the mill."

Have you considered the question of your attitude towards the possible entry of the United States into the next world war? What do you think the responsibilities of writers in general are when and if war comes?

In the event of another war, I plan to oppose it with every means in my power. The responsibilities of writers in general, I should think, lie in such active opposition.

Principal Works

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Body of This Death (poetry) 1923Dark Summer (poetry) 1929The Sleeping Fury (poetry) 1937Poems and New Poems (poetry) 1941Achievement in American Poetry, 1900–1950 (criticism) 1951Collected Poems, 1923–1953 (poetry) 1954Selected Criticism: Prose, Poetry (criticism) 1955The Golden Journey: Poems for Young People [editor with William Jay Smith] (poetry) 1965The Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923–68 (poetry) 1968A Poet's Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art and Vocation (essays) 1970What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan (letters) 1973Journey around My Room: The Autobiography of Bogan, a Mosaic (autobiography) 1980

Robert E. Spiller (review date March 1953)

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SOURCE: A review of Achievement in American Poetry, 1900–1950, in American Literature, Vol. XXV, No. 1, March, 1953, pp. 117-18.

[Spiller was an American educator, editor, and critic whose works included Four Makers of the American Mind: Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Melville (1976). In the review below, he provides a mixed assessment of Achievement in American Poetry.]

This brief survey of twentieth-century poetry in America [Achievement in American Poetry, 1900–1950] is one of six books which together attempt to review and evaluate American literature by types during the first half of the century. This book differs from some of the others in that Miss Bogan is herself a poet and critic of note rather than an academic scholar, and her book is a personal essay rather than a work of historical objectivity. It also differs in that the author devotes a substantial number of her few pages to French, Irish, Spanish, and British poets who have been influential in America at a sacrifice of careful analysis of the work of poets who have been native and resident in this country. The result is an essay on modern poetry rather than on American poetry, in which Rilke receives almost as much attention as Frost, Auden rather more than either of them, and the team of Pound and Eliot approximately as much as all other individual American poets put together. The book therefore cannot be taken seriously as a history of twentieth-century American poetry.

It can, however, be taken seriously as an essay written to a well-defined and rather generally accepted thesis: that T. S. Eliot discovered an aesthetic which successfully resolved the confusions of modern industrial man and made his experience once more available to poetic insight. Pound, according to this view, prepared the way for the master by his ubiquitous experimentation and protest; and Wallace Stevens, W. C. Williams, and Marianne Moore learned enough of the new way to write distinguished if not great poetry. Other poets like Frost, Sandburg, Hart Crane, and younger poets like Karl Shapiro are measured according to their relative distances from the central light. In Eliot, the new freedoms become the new discipline of interpretation. His own achievement in The Waste Land and Four Quartets adequately meets the requirements of his critical theory and provides fixed poles of reference for all lines of poetic development in the period.

This statement is something of an oversimplification of what is itself a vast oversimplification of the facts. But it is the essential gospel of an increasingly articulate group of contemporary poets and critics of poetry. In attempting to give it historical validity, Miss Bogan has indulged in many pages of generalizations about cultural facts and movements and parallel developments in other arts and in the arts of other countries. Most of these have at least some of their roots in facts, but they are offered so generously that they can be defended neither logically nor chronologically. Her method can be accepted only if her book is taken as a provocative essay by a sensitive and exciting imagination. Keen insights, stimulated rather than supported by wide and eclectic reading, have produced a book which should open its subject up to further study and perhaps to sounder historical analysis.

Richard Eberhart (review date 30 May 1954)

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SOURCE: "Common Charms from Deep Sources," in The New York Times Book Review, May 30, 1954, p. 6.

[Eberhart was an American poet, playwright, and educator. In the following review of Collected Poems, 1923–53, he praises the depth and forceful emotion of Bogan's work.]

Louise Bogan's poems adhere to the center of English with a dark lyrical force. What she has to say is important. How she says it is pleasing. She is a compulsive poet first, a stylist second. When compulsion and style meet we have a strong, inimitable Bogan poem.

There is relatively little technical innovation in her poems. She writes mainly in traditional verse forms, handled with adroitness and economy. The originality is in the forceful emotion and how this becomes caught in elegant tensions of perfected forms. She has delved in antique mysteries and brought up universal charms from deep sources, from a knowledge of suffering and from full understanding of the lot of man.

Some of her short lyrics have been known for a long time. To these she adds an arsenal of profound and beautiful poems: [Collected Poems, 1923–53]. Her struggle is to throw off the nonessential, to confront naked realities at their source. Her poems are rich in passionate realizations, expressing in turn irony, bitterness, love and joy.

Her attitudes come down to a deep sincerity, the result of her strongly searching quality. A profundity of psychological knowledge works in the poems. One feels that truths of life, death and love have been confronted and uncompromising answers given.

Miss Bogan writes portrait poems like "The Romantic" and satirical poems like "At a Party." There is a small body of sententia, "To an Artist to Take Heart." She has a group of story or parable poems, such as "The Crossed Apple," "Medusa," "Cartography" and "Evening in the Sanitarium." I made a list of what I call her universal poems. This was quite long, including "My Voice Not Being Proud," "The Alchemist," "Men Loved Wholly Beyond Wisdom," "Memory" and "Cassandra."

This is a rich vein. I also made a list I called pure lyrics, a long list including "Song for a Slight Voice," "I Saw Eternity," "Old Countryside," "Exhortation," "Man Alone," "To My Brother," "Spirit's Song," "Heard by a Girl" and "The Dream." Her finest work is also in this vein.

Miss Bogan, who reviews poetry for The New Yorker, has year to year devoted careful thought to other poets, presenting their work in review with precise commentaries. She has developed these to a fine point of critical interest and sagacity. One had the notion that she wrote sparingly herself. This book is most welcome in giving the reader for the first time the full dimension of her poetic talent. The feeling is of somber strength, of a strong nature controlling powerful emotions by highly conscious art. There is marked skill in her restraint. Her best poems read as if time would not be likely to break them down.

There are many poems one would like to quote. Here is the last part of one, "Sub Contra."

        Let there sound from music's root         One note rage can understand,         A fine noise of riven things.         Build there some thick chord of wonder;         Then, for every passion's sake,         Beat upon it till it break.

Perhaps that will indicate Miss Bogan's depth.

Further Reading

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Knox, Claire E. Louise Bogan: A Reference Source. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1990, 315 p.

Annotated guide to works by and about Bogan.


Bowles, Gloria. "Louise Bogan: To Be (or Not To Be?) Woman Poet." Women's Studies 5 (1977): 131-35.

Argues that Bogan's criticism, letters, and poetry evince an ambivalent and contradictory attitude toward womanhood.

Ciardi, John. "Two Nuns and a Strolling Player." The Nation, New York, 178, No. 21 (22 May 1954): 445-46.

Favorably reviews Bogan's Collected Poems, 1923–53 and remarks on works by Leonie Adams and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Collins, Martha, ed. Critical Essays on Louise Bogan. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1984, 210 p.

Reprints numerous reviews and essays on Bogan's works by prominent critics and scholars, including Mark Van Doren, Kenneth Rexroth, W. H. Auden, and Marianne Moore.

Dodd, Elizabeth, "The Knife of the Perfectionist Attitude," in The Veiled Mirror and the Woman Poet: H. D., Louise Bogan, Elizabeth Bishop, and Louise Glück, pp. 71-103. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992.

Discusses the aesthetics of Bogan's poetry. Dodd contends that Bogan considered emotion the source of poetry and combined "a personal classicism" with "elements of lyric romanticism."

Engels, Vincent. "A Memorable Poetry Year." The Commonweal XI, No. 2 (13 November 1929): 53-5.

Favorably reviews Dark Summer, praising Bogan's sparse language.

Moses, W. R. A review of Poems and New Poems, by Louise Bogan. Accent II, No. 2 (Winter 1942): 120-21.

Contends that Bogan's poetry possesses a precision and purity that sets it above the work of her contemporaries.

Muller, John. "Light and the Wisdom of the Dark: Aging and the Language of Desire in the Texts of Louise Bogan," in Memory and Desire: Aging—Literature—Psychoanalysis, edited by Kathleen Woodward and Murray M. Schwartz, pp. 76-96. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Explicates Bogan's view of human desire, relying especially on her poetry for clarification of her position. Muller contends that Bogan depicted desire as a deceptive impulse arising from narcissism and the ego and, furthermore, believed that aging can enable an individual to understand the nature of desire.

Nicholl, Louise Townsend. "Louise Bogan's Book." The Measure: A Journal of Poetry 32 (October 1923): 15-9.

Laudatory review of Body of This Death.

Rexroth, Kenneth. "Among the Best Women Poets Writing Now in America." New York Herald Tribune Book Review 30, No. 47 (4 July 1954): 5.

Reviews Bogan's Collected Poems, 1923–53, along with works by Babette Deutsch and Leonie Adams. Rexroth argues that Bogan's poetry "handles and judges life in real terms" and that her words "seize the mind."

Ridgeway, Jaqueline. Louise Bogan. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984, 146 p.

Surveys Bogan's career with individual chapters devoted to each major collection.

Upton, Lee. "The Re-Making of a Poet: Louise Bogan." The Centennial Review XXXVI, No. 3 (Fall 1992): 557-72.

Remarks on Bogan's critical reception and concludes that Bogan's poetry "will continue to be read—perhaps even more so as we come to recognize the ways that her poetry explores the unconscious dynamics of women's experience."

Whittemore, Reed. "The Principles of Louise Bogan and Yvor Winters." The Sewanee Review LXIII, No. 1 (January-March 1955): 161-68.

Compares the poetry of Bogan and Winters, concluding that "ultimately their poems' most noteworthy element is style rather than substance."

Jean Starr Untermeyer (review date 24 December 1955)

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SOURCE: "A Seasoning of Wit," in The Saturday Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 52, December 24, 1955, p. 24.

[Untermeyer was an American poet. In the review below, she lauds Selected Criticism.]

When one has read through Louise Bogan's Selected Criticism, seventy essays written over a period of twenty-five years and ranging through the whole of the contemporary literary terrain, with an occasional salute to the past (as in the case of Goethe's 200th birthday celebration), one feels this author possessed not so much of a point of view as a point of vantage—at the living center of the culture she has inherited and cherished and to which she has contributed. Secure, here, she has exposed her own sensibility to the sensibility of each personality under consideration, and this juxtaposition must have yielded rewards to Miss Bogan as it does to her readers.

Throughout—but especially with the major figures—one feels that the urge of the female Eros toward relatedness has not been hampered, and therefore the reading which preceded these writings comes through as a shared experience and not as a professional chore. Miss Bogan is a mistress of concision and the salience she can pack into a page and a half speaks for discipline as well as taste. One editorial device is as praiseworthy as it is practical: this is the device of grouping critiques of one author, written at different periods, into what amounts to a condensed and multifaceted summation of his or her chief qualities. Would this device had been used consistently instead of only occasionally. As it is, the collected papers on Eliot, Hopkins, Rilke, James, and Edith Sitwell, to name a few, are excellent, all the more for the moral as well as the technical standpoint implied.

The analogies to painting and particularly to music are apt and enriching. How right Miss Bogan is about the hazards of translation and the interpretative role that the musical settings by Schubert and Hugo Wolf play in respect to Goethe's poems. While this reviewer does not see eye to eye with Miss Bogan at all points—for instance, the relative importance of Robert Frost and R. M. Rilke, whom Miss Bogan does not, however, compare—there is assent in the main to the judgments here so sensitively set forth.

Of Miss Bogan's wit it has been spoken; I would liken it less to a sword thrust (not an endearing feminine exercise) but rather to a seasoning. Reversing the common saying: she has taken it in and she can dish it out. The flavor is sweet and pungent.

Paul Ramsey (essay date Summer 1970)

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SOURCE: "Louise Bogan," in The Iowa Review, Vol. 1, No. 3, Summer, 1970, pp. 116-24.

[Ramsey is an American educator, poet, critic, and novelist. In the following essay, he lauds Bogan's achievements as a lyric poet, stating "to say that some of her lyrics will last as long as English is spoken is to say too little."]

Louise Bogan is a great lyric poet.

Greatness in poetry is hard to discuss, especially in the lyric. It is comparatively easy to show that Bogan is a very good poet: powerful in feeling, surprising and chaste in diction, strong in structure, masterly in imagery and rhythm, important in themes; but greatness in the lyric is impact and profundity and so simple as almost to defy scrutiny. The thing happens; the note is struck; in Bogan's own language the "terrible … / Music in the granite hill" sounds, and there we are, where her poems arrive time and again.

Lyrics are to be judged by depth and perfecting, not range, yet the reach of her work is more than its slightness in quantity might suggest. She writes mostly on the traditional lyric subjects, themselves comprising no small range, of love, time, passion, grief, nature, death, music, stoicism, limitation, art (not overmuch), memory, dreams. She also has done some very fine light verse with its own special quartz wryness, and manages to have something to say of psychiatrists, malevolent cocktail parties, Jonathan Swift, St. Christopher.

It is the saint who is most the stranger. He is tough and able (arrived from a fresco), an infrequent sort of visitor to her poems. Religion is almost wholly lacking in her work, except in hints, including the brilliant but puzzling hints of the near light verse of "I Saw Eternity," and the spirits who do appear ("Spirit's Song," "The Daemon") are dark ones. Perhaps the lack is an ingredient in the grief which persistently and profoundly underdwells her poems.

Her unique talent is ending poems. I know no other poet who ends so many poems so well. Her endings startle and compose, in most of the poems I discuss, and in at least these others: "Betrothed," "Come Break with Time," "The Frightened Man," "Kept," "Late," "The Romantic," "To Be Sung on the Water," and "Winter Swan."

Her rhythms are brilliant, unique, and work in a variety of kinds: the short-line free verse of "The Dragonfly"; the free verse, varied in line length, often near or in rising rhythm, of "Summer Wish"; the mostly rising rhythm with five strong stresses of "Didactic Piece," one of her best poems; the long-line free verse, quite different in the two poems, of "Baroque Comment" and "After the Persian"; the special falling rhythms of "Train Tune"; and her "Poem in Prose," mostly, despite its title, in rising rhythm with some counterposing with falling rhythms.

These poems, all done well, show a very unusual range of metrical accomplishment, but it is no accident that her most powerful poems are work in which, in Theodore Roethke's words about these poems, the "ground beat of the great tradition can be heard." The great tradition in English verse since the late sixteenth century is accentual-syllabics, primarily iambics, and Roethke's words are well chosen: some of her best poems are accentual-syllabic, and some are near, near enough for her pulsing variations (especially the pressure of grouped, strong accents) to be heard as changes from the norm.

The tradition is heard in other ways than metrical, in diction, image, and thought, yet always heard afresh. She does not violate the dignity of the commonplace by self-indulgent attitudes or freakish privacies, yet has something distinct to say.

She can even write greatly about emotion, a rare achievement, as in the superb "Men Loved Wholly Beyond Wisdom":

       Men loved wholly beyond wisdom        Have the staff without the banner.        Like a fire in a dry thicket        Rising within women's eyes        Is the love men must return.        Heart, so subtle now, and trembling,        What a marvel to be wise,        To love never in this manner!        To be quiet in the fern        Like a thing gone dead and still,        Listening to the prisoned cricket        Shake its terrible, dissembling        Music in the granite hill.

The poem says that passion is destructive and frustration terrible and fearful. These are known truths, yet only in Shakespeare's sonnets known with fiercer precision than here. The precision is reached by the images and the rhythms. The visions and tensions tell us what is felt; what is felt is the subject of the poem. Thus the poem is new knowledge of a very important kind. Of the images the staff without the banner is just and potent, requiring a moment's reflection. The other images have an immediately seen propriety yet lead to far reaches of feeling: fire, dry thickets, fern, prison, granite.

The poem is, in logical shape, a dilemma. A disjunction is offered, this or that, each alternative leading to the tragic. The poem does not say or imply whether other alternatives exist, but surely means—and says in its profound sense of closure, of completeness—there tragedy exists in any resolution of human sexuality, a truth of great moral importance.

Metrically the poem is magnificent, as are several of her poems. It is the one poem I shall discuss in some metrical detail. The principles involved apply to other poems of hers which are near traditional norms. This poem stays within hearing distance of the accentual-syllabic and turns to iambics in the last verse. The variations are more than would occur in more traditional meters but still are heard as variations. To move further from those expectancies, as much modern near-iambic free verse does, is to lose strength, the strength of vibrancy across the norm. The pattern of the poem is rising trimeter, and the following verses scan traditionally: vv. 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 13. The first line scans as trochee trochee iamb trochee, but the effect is not of a falling line, because of the comparative strength of "loved" and because an iambic substitution breaks a trochaic pattern much more than a trochaic substitution breaks an iambic pattern. Shifting back and forth from rising to falling rhythm, and grouping strong stresses together often in unusual ways, are the two means by which she most frequently varies from the standard procedures of accentual-syllabic. The bacchiac (light followed by two strongs), a most unusual foot in English verse, occurs often enough in her poetry to be a singular feature. Several times in her poems the bacchiac is correct in the scansion, and the grouping more often occurs when some other scansion would apply. It occurs in verse eight, of which the best scansion is bacchiac iamb iamb feminine ending (others, acceptable foot by foot, would violate the trimeter pattern).

The sixth line scans as trochees, with iambic movement between the commas; the next to last verse scans as straight trochees, with rocking rhythm after the comma. The last verse begins falling but turns back to resolving iambs; its shape, iambic with trochee in the first place, is traditional. The struggle against the norm subsides; what is sounded, sounds.

Such rhythms are empowered by a control that subtilizes intense feeling, by passion that extends and renews form, and bear a real analogy to the subject of the poem; the contrast of, the struggle between, restraint and passion. The subject appears directly or indirectly in a number of her poems. "Ad Castitatem" deals directly with the theme. It is a good poem, well structured (parallel invocations with nice distinctions and some narrative progress) and beautiful in imagery, especially in the unforgettable "a breeze of flame." The rhythms are delicate but comparatively lax, mixing short-line free verse and iambics without achieving the intensities the kinds separately can have.

"The Alchemist" is about the passion of the mind in struggle with the passion of the flesh. The poem is in strict iambic tetrameter, except for some truncated lines, truncated iambic tetrameter being itself an important traditional measure; and once again the rhythmical changes are intense, perhaps too intensely mimetic in "ceased its sudden thresh." The poem is about the failure of the will to govern passion, yet displays, in opposition to that theme, will governing passion to a single majestic continued poetic metaphor which is the poem. Most poems—they are legion nowadays—about the impossibility of the control or understanding of our experience are, with more consistency than Bogan's poem displays, written in lax and disordered styles and rhythms, but are for the same reason much inferior to Bogan's poems.

The view of the poem is stoic, anti-rational, pessimistic, and at least approaches physicalism. If "flesh" is not the sole reality, it is the controlling one, and the mind submits. Since I believe that all four of these views have something seriously wrong with them, my admiration needs explaining. It will not do to separate aesthetics and belief, since one responds to, is moved by, the attitudes expressed in and through the forms, nor will it (simply) do to appeal to "imaginative patterns of experience" or the like as against belief, since, for one thing, some imaginative patterns of experience are more moving and more in accord with reality than others, that is, imaginative patterns themselves can be judged as better and worse. For a second thing, to insist that we are moved in poems by imaginative patterns of experience under or across beliefs is to imply that such patterns are more valid than the beliefs and that to be consistent one should reject the beliefs. Tolerance becomes a monism, and there are logical problems in belief which neither politeness nor rhetoric can dissolve.

What validates the poem is its truth, partial but relevant, and deeply seen. Passion is powerful; not all can be controlled; reasonings fail; experience can be grim and must be met honestly. That is not all there is to say; but there is that much to say, as this poem and other of her poems beautifully show.

Nor is she here offering, or necessarily exemplifying, a general truth. The alchemist in the poem is one (one individual) who seeks a passion of the mind and finds unmysterious flesh. Others may successfully go beyond the submission to passion, for instance the speaker in "Knowledge," who knows the limits of passion and its treasures, seeks to learn beyond passion and finds in the poem's success an experience which goes beyond the self.

"Knowledge" is over-structured, each verse paralleling the corresponding verse in the other stanza, but the parallelism does strengthen the impact of the last two verses "Trees make a long shadow / And a light sound." In these verses the richness of quantity and the curious grouping of accent (the simplest scansion of the next-to-last verse is trochee bacchiac feminine ending) abet the creation of the physical, literal, perfected ending which is the knowledge the poem speaks of and seeks.

"Henceforth, From the Mind" turns from the perception of nature to the strangeness of the mind's reflection of the world. It is one of her best known poems, and remains one of my favorites despite the poor second stanza. Poor writing is very rare in Bogan's work; in fact she is one of the most consistent poets in this respect since Campion and Herrick; but the second stanza of the poem is crudely written and has a bad confusion caused by syntax. In "joy you thought" the joy from the tongue is in meaning other than the powerful joy of youth—the difference is the point of the stanza—but the syntax identifies them, and the confusion damages the comparison. Shakespeare at times says more in his syntactical thickets than simple syntax could obtain; and in Bogan's "Didactic Piece" the syntax of the first stanza, especially of the last verse in it, is dislocated or else very clumsy, yet does not for me damage the emotional force of the passage. Here the syntax does harm, because Bogan says something less and more confused than she meant. The last three verses of the stanza are heavy-handed clichés, with some overstressed alliteration.

The first stanza, however, is well written and of high generalizing power, and the last two stanzas are one of the most perfectly modulated analogies in English poetry. The image is not phenomenological, though it could have been pushed that way easily enough, since what one hears in a shell is one's blood, not the sea; but the poem has no hint of that. The mind's view of experience is strange, distant, and modified by emotion and memory, but the line to reality is still there; the echo is of truth. What is true is truly loved, even at a distance.

Love moves in grief and dreams, deeply, darkly, in many of her poems; her themes mix there. "I said out of sleeping," says "Second Song," as less explicitly say her poems often. What comes from or descends to sleeping is lucid and other. "Second Song" is a delicate farewell to passion whose delicacy is crossed by the "Black salt, black provender." The phrase may be vaginal, or anal, or for all I know or can prove neither; but to say so is not to explain the force of the phrase, since (presumably) many phrases share such sources; the power of the phrase remains literally incalculable. Its force in the poem comes in some part from its unexpectedness in context, as though she were applying her own rule in "Sub Contra" that notes should be "delicate and involute" but "Let there sound from music's root / One note rage can understand."

She asks of wine in "To Wine." to offer "All that is worth / Grief. Give that beat again." Grief is in the strength of her dreams. Dreams open on reality that the day does not reckon, reality of the mind and, as she hints once in a while, perhaps beyond. In her criticism she is sometimes for the untrammeled in art or sexuality, celebrating modernism for its freeing of the unconscious; but in her verse she never loses touch with mind's and form's lucidities even when sounding the murmurous kingdom of the undernotes. A touch of severe conscience, a passion for truth without pretension, a vested memory (I like to think) of the rockscape of her native Maine, keep her to a center where extremes meet and irradiate each other.

"Come, Sleep …" (spaced periods hers) is about dreaming. It describes, in magnificently fresh and concise phrases, bee, ant, whale, palm, flower, grass; asks whether they dream; replies:

       Surely, whispers in the glassy corridor        Never trouble their dream.        Never, for them, the dark turreted house reflects itself        In the depthless stream.

The stream is of the mind's depth and it may be deeper. Since the stream is depth-less, not to be measured, we cannot say how far it goes in or beyond the mind. The shades of voice are haunted utterance, reflective of their meaning; yet the house of the poem is well built.

Two of her best known poems, "The Dream" and "The Sleeping Fury," are imagined accounts of dreams, and "Medusa" is a retold myth, very like a dream. "The Dream" and "The Sleeping Fury," though very well done, are less successful and less dreamlike for me than other poems in which dreams flash in or cross. Perhaps the clarity of narrative development, the conscious visibility of Freudian meanings, or the not quite persuasively earned reversals get in those poems' way, or in mine.

"Medusa" perfects its motion in stillness, becoming image and example of her lyrics. Good lyrics are active objects, Bogan's especially so, steadier in shape and livelier in motion than most. She, like Medusa, fixes motion; unlike Medusa, she does not stop motion. If one fixes motion so that it stops, one has not fixed motion; one has usurped its place. Zeno's arrow does not fly. "Medusa," which is about the startlingness of stopped motion, is itself active and changeless, each note struck, and heard. The tipped bell does make its sound.

What the poem is about, beyond the legend, is not made clear. The legend is retold, not as allegory, although it sounds allegorical, but as private experience. One may apply analogies, to death, eternity, time, the past, the paralysis of fear, a moment of trance, but such are analogies, not given meanings, and the poem provides no bridge to any of them. Analogies are subclasses of a larger class; and subclasses are not each other's meanings, except when intentionally made so by signals. Nor are the poem's psychic sources its meaning in the way that psychic sources are part of the meaning within "The Dream" and "The Sleeping Fury." Sources and analogies help to empower the poem; but the poem does not say them. It happens; and it stops.

"Old Countryside" is of the most etched yet suggestive lyrics in the language. Its sensuous description is firm as eye can hold; what is unsaid, painfully unheard, is the silence. The impression of clarity is so final that it is startling to find surface difficulties which make the obscure silence even stranger.

The "we" is unidentified, perhaps generic: it could refer to friends, lovers, brother and sister. The time sequence is elusive. "All has come to proof" since the day remembered of the attic in the country house on a stormy day. The third stanza refers to a time between the time of the memory in stanzas one and two and the present time; since the present is "long since" that nearer time, the first time must be long long since. "Far back" from the time of the third stanza occurs the fourth stanza. The "far back" suggests space, as though the last severe images were in a place that endured "in the stillest of the year" and the stillness stops time and space, in vision. Chronologically the fourth stanza, which has snow, occurs at least one winter before the "winter of dry leaves" and could be much earlier. One cannot tell the relation between the time of the fourth and first stanzas, except that the first stanza seems earlier. It does not matter. Memory makes time past irremediably far and contemporary, as does the poem.

One detail puzzles, either an odd ellipsis or a shift to the godlike, the we pulling down oak leaves in a winter of dry leaves, as though they were the agents of the change. The detail in general is simply the finest I know in a lyric poem, total in the clarity of what is seen and in the integrity of what is felt: "The summer thunder, like a wooden bell, / Rang in the storm …," the "mirror cast the cloudy day along / The attic floor …," "… we heard the cock / Shout its unplaceable cry, the axe's sound / Delay a moment after the axe's stroke," and then the perfection of love and clear pain of the last stanza:

       Far back, we saw, in the stillest of the year,        The scrawled vine shudder, and the rose-branch show        Red to the thorns, and, sharp as sight can bear,        The thin hound's body arched against the snow.

The rhythms are uniquely hers; the meter is conventional without variation. The poem is in the form called "the heroic quatrain." Except for four anapests, anapestic substitution being normal in much nineteenth- and twentieth-century iambics, and the graceful trimeter in stanza two, no variation occurs that one could not find in Dryden's heroic quatrains. The quatrain is traditionally used for narrative, generalizing, and explicit meditation (Dryden's Annus Mirabilis and Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard); here it is used for particularizing, and implicit meditation. Its "narration" is the narrating and relating of memories. Like much in Gray and Dryden, it focuses motion and stillness in quietly echoing tones; and it achieves a sharpness of definition unique in the examples I know of the form, either historical or modern.

In "Song for the Last Act," perhaps her greatest poem and certainly the one I find most moving, her powerfully controlled energies throb with a different resonance. Of all her poems it has the most visible frame (a variation of the refrain verse is repeated at both the beginning and end of each of the three stanzas) and the most radical wildness of meaning and image.

       Now that I have your face by heart, I look        Less at its features than its darkening frame        Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,        Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd's crook.        Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease        The lead and marble figures watch the show        Of yet another summer loath to go        Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.        Now that I have your face by heart, I look.        Now that I have your voice by heart, I read        In the black chords upon a dulling page        Music that is not meant for music's cage,        Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.        The staves are shuttled over with a stark        Unprinted silence. In a double dream        I must spell out the storm, the running stream.        The beat's too swift. The notes shift in the dark.        Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.        Now that I have your heart by heart, I see        The wharves with their great ships and architraves;        The rigging and the cargo and the slaves        On a strange beach under a broken sky.        O not departure, but a voyage done!        The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps        Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps        Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.        Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

The first stanza is mellow description with seemingly firm shapes, yet the firmness is in a way only a seeming. Art and nature share the passage, and one cannot exactly visualize the relation of parts. A face is a face in a portrait whose frame is darkened by time and itself painted with flowers, by a window which gives on an actual garden; or the face is framed by a garden behind which is another garden. Neither statement quite reaches, and the small sur-rationality prepares for the second stanza.

The metaphor in the opening of the first stanza is general, "Now that I have your face by heart, I look," varied to the musical and self-inconsistent in the second stanza: "Now that I have your voice by heart, I read (the music)." To have music by heart is precisely not to read it. The music in the second stanza breaks loose beyond itself and statable meaning and returns, storming the silence of its passion. To paraphrase one needs to repeat the metaphors: the music read on the page is not for music's cage; the emblems mix with words, shake and bleed; the staves are shuttled over with silence. The general meaning, however, is in its tending clear: understanding the person addressed is like knowing musical notes and what in music reaches through and beyond the notes into love and pain and passion. To understand is to relate the formulable knowledge and the mystery, as the stanza does, in subject and feeling. The "double dream" includes the music and the silence. (The shift to the image of the stream was probably influenced by two lines from "Secret Treasure" from Sara Teasdale's book Strange Victory, a book praised by Bogan in Achievement in Modern Poetry. The lines are "Fear not that my music seems / Like water locked in winter streams." The first stanza, even more certainly, echoes some details from "In a Darkening Garden" in the same book.)

In the third and last stanza, the poem moves away from the shifting of meaning to an abundantly clear and plangent image of a port, the sea's edge as an image of oncoming death. It is a traditional image, realized with greatness, with as much beauty and regret as the first stanza's, as much strangeness of pain as the second stanza's, and as much control of the exact measure of sound touched in image on shaded meaning and feeling as that of any poem in our heritage:

                         … the anchor weeps        Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps        Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.        Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

It is a great poem, and substantial to my argument. For the case for poetic greatness is always, finally, the poems. To say that some of her lyrics will last as long as English is spoken is to say too little. For since value inheres in eternity, the worth of her poems is not finally to be measured by the length of enduring. To have written "Song for the Last Act," "Old Countryside," "Men Loved Wholly beyond Wisdom," "Didactic Piece," "Medusa," "Henceforth, from the Mind," "The Alchemist," "Second Song," "Night," and some dozens of other poems of very nearly comparable excellence is to have wrought one of the high achievements of the human spirit, and to deserve our celebration and our love.

Thomas Lask (review date 31 October 1970)

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SOURCE: "The Poet as Critical Reader," in The New York Times, October 31, 1970, p. 27.

[In the review below, Lask praises A Poet's Alphabet, stating that "for a book of criticism, [Bogan's] volume is unusual in the amount of sheer reading pleasure it provides."]

Louise Bogan's critical pieces [in A Poet's Alphabet] come to us almost as from another age. Not that her subjects are dated. The list of poets reviewed could not be more contemporary. But her tone of civilized inquiry, her judgment that was both detached and involved, the complete absence of trivia and small talk and her desire only to engage the work at hand make her appear a sport in these days of ego-bruising and assertive journalism. She is kind but sharp eyed, soft spoken but penetrating, sympathetic but not fooled. Though her tastes and values are stamped on every page, she never intrudes in person—remarkable in a book of this length. I cannot imagine any poet no matter how severely handled (Peter Viereck for example), grumbling at her criticism, for she is so obviously concerned with the art and craft of the maker.

As a critic, Miss Bogan, who died this year, took a median position between the New Criticism at one end and sociological (or Marxian) criticism at the other. She refused to identify the poet with the historical processes of his age, though she did admit that such narrow readings had their validity. On the other hand, she was not willing to strip the work down to its formal elements only, as if the poet was a disembodied muse living in no fixed time or place and without those idiosyncracies that made him what he was and no other. There is also little poking around in myth or in depth psychology.

But she was minutely aware of the poet's relation to the poetic currents of his time: what he had learned from others, how much he was alike, how he differed from them. She was automatically conscious of the technical finish of the poetry she was reading. Above all she was attuned to the emotional climate in which the poet wrote and the impact he made on the reader. A distinguished poet herself, she was rare in that she participated in the esthetic experience from the other end as a reader, a perceiver. Not so profound perhaps as other critics, she was most useful to that man, who, not without resources of his own, still needed some indication as to where to begin.

Her manner was so quiet, her style so unemphatic that they sometimes obscured the force of her judgments, I doubt whether a more pithy statement of Auden's spiritual development (up to that time) could have been framed than the one she penned in 1944. In a brief piece written in 1957, she pointed out how so much experimental writing 'becomes formula ridden and a victim of its own conventions. A book could be written (and perhaps already has) on her obiter dictum that Yeats and Pound achieved modernity but that Eliot was modern from the start. And in dealing with the French poet Paul Eluard, who was esthetically a surrealist and politically a communist, she touched the exposed nerve of a whole generation of writers who embraced a dogma that was completely inimical to their poetic faith.

She could be wrong and she could be disappointing in her pieces, which is to say that she was mortal. An exquisite and scrupulous craftsman with a leaning to order, she had a natural tendency to respond to formal workmanship, and though she was always fair, she was not always cordial to those who liked to call William Carlos Williams and Charles Olson master. Thus I think she missed the boat in evaluating Donald Allen's significant anthology The New American Poetry, 1945–1960, which was at once a survey of the situation in poetry and a rallying cry to the young.

Offended by the raucous element in the book and by a quality that was raw and unfinished, she felt that the "art of language" could easily disappear under the onslaughts of the untutored, and therefore failed to understand the great appeal such poetry had for many youngsters. Since she herself had no trouble in recognizing what was quick and alive in formal writing, she could not understand the distaste of those who saw academic verse as a wasteland of dried-out forms and brittle language.

And because in writing for magazines, her reviews had to be short, they sometimes raised expectations she did not fulfill. Her succinct piece on John Berryman's 77 Dream Songs had the poet all set up for a devastating knockout punch, when lo! the review ended.

If this notice has concentrated on her poetry reviews, it is due in part to personal preference, in part to the amount of space they occupy in the book. However, she brought the same qualities of knowledge and insight to her reviews of fiction and criticism. The shortcomings and strengths of R. P. Blackmur, for example, are summed up precisely and accurately in the smallest possible space. Her longer pieces on Dorothy Richardson and Flaubert's L'Education sentimentale must have restored those books and authors to a new generation. Her comments on French writing throughout shows her deep understanding of that nation's culture.

For a book of criticism, her volume is unusual in the amount of sheer reading pleasure it provides.

Harry Morris (review date Autumn 1972)

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SOURCE: A review of A Poet's Alphabet, in The Sewanee Review, Vol. LXXX, No. 4, Autumn, 1972, pp. 627-29.

[In the following positive review of A Poet's Alphabet, Morris states that in this critical work Bogan "finds the strengths of her writers and emphasizes these in deft, bright, compact, and perceptive analyses."]

Louise Bogan is a poet who generates affectionate approval. Somewhat the same as for Caroline Gordon among the novelists, the feeling pervades that Miss Bogan never received the recognition due her work; and those who write about her verse go extra weight to correct the imbalance. I think especially of Paul Ramsey's loving essay which begins, "Louise Bogan is a great lyric poet," and ends, "To say that some of her lyrics will last as long as English is spoken is to say too little." On the face of it, Mr. Ramsey would seem to have gone too far, and I believe he has; but I am willing to make the same mistake about her reviews and criticism.

A Poet's Alphabet is a delight to read. The arrangement takes us from Auden to Yeats, from American Literature to the Yale Series of Younger Poets. The dates of composition take us from 1923 to 1969, the year before Miss Bogan's death in February, 1970. The chief experience one undergoes in A Poet's Alphabet is admiration for Miss Bogan's generosity, which however is bestowed never at the expense of truth. Miss Bogan finds the strengths of her writers and emphasizes these in deft, bright, compact, and perceptive analyses. It is instructive to any critic or reviewer that Miss Bogan, in assessing the work of over 120 authors, approves (my count was casual) a round 100. Therefore it is easier to list the writers who come short. Max Eastman, Louis Untermeyer, John Berryman, Peter Viereck, Robinson Jeffers, Archibald MacLeish, Horace Gregory, Randall Jarrell, Karl Shapiro, Stephen Spender, Sandra Hochman, Edith Wharton, Katherine Hoskins, John Ashbery, and John Hollander come in for greater or lesser disapproval, although, in her kindness, Miss Bogan almost never is negative completely. Some of these censured are admired elsewhere in her reviews (often as translators).

The alphabetic arrangement of the book has its great advantage for the reader who prefers to use it as a guide to the poets of his interest; but for the reader who would learn something of Louise Bogan, it has its drawbacks. To submit to alphabet is to neglect chronology. We cannot follow Miss Bogan's changing tastes when essays under A are often those written in the 'forties,' fifties, and 'sixties, whereas her first piece (1923) does not appear until L. To get her next ten pieces in order disorders the alphabet as follows: SCPCAHEJOS.

It may be a mistake also (of the editors, not of Miss Bogan) that Miss Bogan's obituary is reprinted from the New Yorker, where we learn that the reviewer's first piece in that magazine appeared March 21, 1931, and her last December 28, 1968; for the reader will look in vain for a piece from either of those years. In general, the scholarship of the editors is casual. We wonder which pieces come from the New Yorker and which from other sources; nor does the acknowledgments page help, for it fails to account for several essays, most notably the last piece she wrote: the essay on Pablo Neruda (1969). Nevertheless, the book is handsomely printed and generally well-edited for a trade edition.

If we take the trouble to read through a second time, following the years rather than the alphabet, we can discover Miss Bogan's development well enough. Evidence of a certain conservatism is found frequently in the early materials: "the experimental side of literature must adjust itself to 'reality' and to the changes in the human situation. Without abolishing a continued 'openness' toward experiment, writers must not insist upon a stubborn avant-gardism when no real need for a further restless forward movement any longer exists" (1950). In her reviews of the 'fifties and 'sixties, Miss Bogan appears to have come to some terms with the experimentalists and vers librists, whom for a long time she held off: "Here, watching a cultivated sense of tradition through modern attitudes and techniques, we sense the possibility of a new reconciliation in modern verse, for so long filled with division and dissent" (1954). Yet her need of form dies hard. One of the longer essays in her book is a defense of formal poetry under the guise of espousing its delights: "formal art—art in which the great tradition is still alive and by which it functions—is as modern as this moment…. This is the formal art fragments of which we should not only as readers 'shore against our ruins,' but keep as a directing influence in whatever we manage to build—to create" (1953).

Of the very great writers, Miss Bogan calls Yeats (during his lifetime) "the greatest poet writing in English" and says of Eliot that "The Collected Poems are more than a work of poetic creation; they are a work of poetic regeneration" (1936). On Frost Miss Bogan gives balanced and honorable judgment of considerable perception, recognizing the poet as self-limited, but within those limits capable of a "masterful ordering of experience" when well into his old age, years in which so many poets decline. On Pound Miss Bogan arrived in 1955 where so many of us have wound up more recently: "The actual form of the Cantos … now seems slightly fossilized—worthy of note as origin and process but with no truly invigorating aspects."

Perhaps the service that Miss Bogan has done for letters during her life is discernible best in her constant approval of the significant literary movements on the continent and her vigorous support of translation as a means of making available, no matter how imperfectly, the thought of the influential cultures of France, Germany, Spain, and to a lesser extent of modern Greece and the Orient.

Katie Louchheim (review date February 1974)

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SOURCE: "A True Inheritor," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 233, No. 2, February, 1974, pp. 90-2.

[Louchheim was an American poet, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following positive review of What the Woman Lived, she comments on Bogan's life and works.]

In a letter dated 1939, Louise Bogan expands an argument about Boswell and Johnson into a few epithets on life: "Aloneness is peculiar-making, to some extent, but not any more so … than lots of Togetherness I've seen."

Miss Bogan's aloneness was never peculiar, and always deliberate. A good deal of her seclusion was spent in carrying out one of her own dicta: "The least we can do, is to give a phrase to the post."

In the more than four hundred letters collected and edited by Ruth Limmer in What the Woman Lived, Miss Bogan managed to give us a stylish, clear, and entertaining literary history of the fifty years from 1920 to 1970.

Besides her addiction to aloneness, Miss Bogan practiced public reticence. She used many disguises, the chief of which was wit. In response to her publisher's (John Hall Wheelock of Scribner's) request for biographical material, she wrote: "I have a job reviewing books of poetry for The New Yorker [a position she held for thirty-eight years], I won a Guggenheim in 1933. I am wild about music, and I read everything but books on Grover Cleveland and novels called O Genteel Lady."

In a letter never mailed, she added irony: "My dislike of telling future research students anything about myself is intense and profound. If they know everything to begin with, how in hell can they go on eating up their tidy little fellowships researching?" Under the questionnaire's heading "Literary and social preferences," she wrote: "My social preferences range from truck and taxi drivers who make me laugh, locomotive engineers, when they are good-looking and flirtatious, delivery boys, and touching old people…." She also lists a few dislikes: "dirty finger-nails … well-bred accents … the professional literati of all ages, other women poets (jealousy!), other men poets, English accents, Yale graduates and bad writing and bad writers."

The facts of the matter were that Louise Bogan's first book of poetry was published in 1923 and her first critical review, on D. H. Lawrence, came out in the same year. And except for a brief period when she worked as an assistant in the St. Mark's Place public library (Marianne Moore was a member of the staff), filed index cards at Columbia University (a job found for her by Margaret Mead), and clerked in Brentano's, she gave her life to creating and commenting upon literature. All told there were six books of poetry (the final collection, still in print, is called The Blue Estuaries), three books of criticism (the last, A Poet's Alphabet, appeared posthumously in 1970), four volumes of prose translations, an anthology of poetry for young people, even a bibliography of English belles lettres during World War II, which she compiled while she was consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress.

A sizable body of work, and all of it of the highest quality, but how does one celebrate poetry which does not create philosophic structures, does not shock or shriek, does not break new technical trails? Her poetry is simply there. Existing within the long line of the English lyric, it speaks to demonstrate that time and fashion do not alter ultimate human concerns.

She would not kick up her heels to the rhythms of the Roaring Twenties, nor would she later lead parades for or against economic injustice, fascism, democracy, racial inequalities. That is not what poetry is about. As she said time and again—and she was the most gracefully lucid, learned, and unprogrammatic critic of her generation—poetry is sound, is rhythm, is memorable language.

Miss Bogan's talent was formidable. Her poetry alone would have more than satisfied anyone else's need for creative expression. The letters, one must assume, were written for her own entertainment, as well as that of friends. Impetuous, never restrained or cautious, full of capricious and diverting images, plus exhilarating cerebral pyrotechnics, they make for first-class theater.

"Get all the bear into your work!" she advised author May Sarton. "Get all the bitterness, too. That's the place for it"—advice she practiced with a fine flourish. She was not given to hedging. Virginia Woolf is accused of having "a very inhuman side … Her feminism was bound up with her fears." Ellen Glasgow is described as "a lending-library set-up." The G. Am. public (Great American public: the letters are sprinkled with abbreviations) "likes pompous spinsters to tell them what life is really like." Jane Austen is "the only English novelist that a poet can respect. She's clean and onto it all and witty."

Henry James constantly reappears until by the end of the book we have read through everything he ever wrote, along with Miss B's perceptive comments. He is at once described as "superb … I am enchanted by the absolute sureness in method" and attacked as "both impotent and afraid." Of Archibald MacLeish she said: "He has real talent, without any doubt, but he has been too friendly with Conrad Aiken, T. S. Eliot, etc.; his ear is too good."

When Isherwood and Auden came to this country in 1940, she refused to meet them. Their politics bothered and their talents were not yet proven. By 1941, however, she wrote: "Auden is a swell person, complicatedness and all." In later years she liked to quote what Auden told her: "We should talk back to God; this is a kind of prayer." (When she died in 1970, Auden gave the eulogy at the American Academy of Arts and Letters.)

Miss Bogan could be tender. After an argument with a close friend, Rolfe Humphries (poet, classicist, and translator), she assuaged him: "At least you leave the most important part of me alone. We never quarrel about poetry, which after all … is a region of the mind; it just happens that it is the region wherein, at our best, we both live."

Besides her reticence, her delight in wounding wit, the pleasure she took in arguing, the notion that it was vulgar to sell herself, there was her very distinct Irish paranoia. The Irish, and she was very Irish, are "really forest dwellers," she wrote to Rufina McCarthy Helmer in 1937, "with all the forest-dweller's instincts, and … since, or when, the Irish forests disappeared, they all developed such a terrible neurosis, from being forced to be out in the open so much." In a letter to Edmund Wilson, she further elaborated the idea: "Good God, what a country this is! It's not a country, it's a neurosis. Never come here, when you are apt, or liable, to ideas of reference, or to other paranoid symptoms."

Miss Bogan's susceptibility to "ideas of reference" may have begun with "an extraordinary childhood and an unfortunate early marriage into which last state I had rushed to escape the first." Her second marriage, to Raymond Holden (minor poet and novelist), was a stormy one: "I was a demon of jealousy and a demon of fidelity too, morbid fidelity." Her struggles with recurrent depressions (several bouts in sanatoriums) led her to a philosophical conclusion: "No one is let be, we are all forced in some way. Only the truly miserable, the truly forlorn are not forced, they are left alone by a God who has forgotten them."

Miss Bogan was never forlorn, perhaps because she was severe with herself. In a letter to Rolfe Humphries she wrote: "We are all self-lovers to an almost complete degree. So—act only enough to get yourself a little something to eat, and a bed to sleep on, and a drink, and a bunch of flowers. Act only enough to get yourself a little bit of love."

Miss Bogan came upon love after her first bout of depression. To Harriet Monroe, founder and editor of Poetry magazine, she wrote: "I feel at once renewed and disinherited. Different people say different things. My doctor insists that I love; Robert Frost … recommends fear and hatred." She chose love. In a later letter to Edmund Wilson, she claimed to have been "made to bloom … by the enormous lovemaking of a cross between a Brandenburger and a Pomeranian, one Theodore Roethke…. He is very, very large and he writes very very small lyrics." Roethke was twenty-six and she was thirty-eight.

Their correspondence lasted more than thirty years. The letters illustrate vividly the enormous encouragement, advice, and help that Miss Bogan gave the struggling poet: "You will have to look at things until you don't know whether you are they or they are you." Roethke also suffered from recurrent depressions. She writes to him that loss of face is the worst thing that can happen to anyone: "I know, because I have lost mine, not once, but many times. And believe me, the only way to get it back is to put your back against the wall and fight for it. You can't brood or sulk or smash around in a drunken frenzy … if you smash yourself dead, they won't give a damn … it's the self that must do it. You Ted Roethke, for Ted Roethke. I Louise Bogan, for Louise Bogan."

Other love affairs are hinted at but in many of the letters she refers to her lifelong conviction that for her "work was the only panacea." In various forms, she rephrases this belief. To Morton Zabel, assistant editor of Poetry magazine, she wrote: "The one thing to remember is that intellectual curiosity and the life of the mind are man's hope."

The more than seventy letters to Zabel are full of carefully chosen details that illuminate the dailiness of place, people, and problems, as well as a record of the imaginative interchanges between two scholarly human beings. They are also a study of the tests and strengths of friendship—Miss B quarreled with Zabel when, rightfully, she suspected him of collecting her letters for possible posthumous use. In 1941 she wrote: "I think we ought to come right down to cases, and clear up a few matters, before either renewed friendship, or eternal silence…. I have finally come to realize that you are not treating the letters as a gay correspondence between friends, but as a collection … everything I write you is being put into a kind of coffin…. This realization must, of course, break my correspondence with you…. I'll write to people who think of me as a human being, and not as a museum piece."

What is important about Miss Bogan is all in the letters: her humanness, her intellectual powers, her depressions, her taste for the good life ("I do love tables, chairs, libraries, silk underwear, clean sheets, food cooked to order, paper and pencil and music"), her incorruptibility, her conspiratorial heritage. Her praise of Marianne Moore most nearly resembles a self-portrait: "A fine, firm, human and tough point of standing."

In the early sixties, she wrote to William Maxwell (a New Yorker editor): "The nearer one comes to vanishing, the stranger it seems." In a later letter, written from a sanatorium, she observed: "One evening, with a gibbous moon hanging over the city (such visions as we have!), like a piece of red cantaloupe, and automobiles showing red danger signals … I thought I had reached the edge of eternity, and wept and wept."

She had mastered terror, climbed over mountains of difficulties, and come out with her laughter intact. Her laughter could be diabolic. In one of the last letters she speaks of her inability to get going on the New Yorker piece. "I have decided, however, to mention the fact … that Anne Sexton is the first woman in history to have written a hymn to her uterus."

This was the woman both admired and feared. The Bogan tone in the letters, as in the poetry, is unmistakable. She seduces the ear.

As Theodore Roethke said, "Bogan is one of the true inheritors … and the best work will stay in the language as long as the language survives."

One suspects that Miss Bogan would have scoffed at the title What the Woman Lived. What the Woman Lived Through would at least have been accurate and she might have preferred it.

William Maxwell (review date 29 November 1980)

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SOURCE: "A Life of Poetry and Suffering," in The New Republic, Vol. 183, No. 22, November 29, 1980, pp. 38-40.

[Maxwell was an American novelist, short story writer, and editor. In the following review of Journey around My Room, a volume edited by Ruth Limmer, he calls Limmer's work "a labor of love" and comments on Bogan's life and career.]

At two different periods in her life Louise Bogan kept a journal, most of which was published in the New Yorker, in the issue of January 30, 1980. Drawing on this, and on her letters, poems, stories, literary criticism, and conversation, Ruth Limmer has made a narrative mosaic that she calls the autobiography of Louise Bogan [Journey Around My Room]. Autobiography presupposes the writer in the driver's seat. It is a handling over, by the writer, of his or her life, and it stands or falls by its candor, which is felt in a personal way. If the handing over is done by someone else, then it is a different literary form—in this instance a species of anthologizing.

In her introduction Miss Limmer admits Journey Around My Room is not the autobiography Louise Bogan would have written had she chosen to.

A stage manager, not the playwright, has decided on the scenes and acts and on how to arrange and light the script. These are not her choices of prose or poetry, not her sequences, not her chapter divisions. But the book always speaks in her voice and is true to her experience as she revealed it.

A better analogy would have been the dramatization of a novel; one recognizes the action and often stretches of dialogue, but the shaping hand is the dramatist's and the nature of the work is inevitably altered when it is lifted from the printed page and given to actors to speak.

Miss Bogan's poetry, her criticism, her journal, and the best of her very few short stories all have an identifying quality. They are formal, crystalline, without self-indulgence or self-pity, and well beyond the small, the merely personal. They have arrived at a kind of perfection, and I do not think time will separate them from it. Her journal appears to have been written not for publication but as a way of dealing with certain abiding emotional conflicts, which she approaches again and again and turns aside from just as she is about to clear the hurdle. It is not a failure: the thing she failed to say, the story she could not bring herself to tell, is somehow there in that tense preparation and turning aside at the last moment. It is an extremely moving document.

Miss Limmer's collage has been done with the utmost care, and is clearly a labor of love. It is made up almost entirely of wonderful writing not easily come by. Such as: "In their cage at evening, in the zoo, one hippopotamus, with his great low hanging ponderous face, nuzzled the side of another. What if tenderness should be lost everywhere else, and left only in these creatures?" And:

As I remember my bewilderment, my judgment can do nothing even now to make things clear. The child has nothing to which it can compare the situation. And everything that then was strange is even stranger in retrospect. The sum has been added up wrong and this faulty conclusion has long ago been accepted and approved. There is nothing to be done about it now.

And "The dreadful thing about north rooms: not that there is no sunlight in them now, but that there has never been sun in them … like the minds of stupid people: that have been stupid from the beginning and will be stupid forever." And "Above these objects hangs a Japanese print, depicting Russian sailors afflicted by an angry ocean, searchlights, a burning ship, and a boatload of raging Japanese." It is enough to make an ordinary writer wring his hands.

The title of Miss Limmer's book is the title of Louise Bogan's most remarkable short story, which is in turn borrowed from the "Voyage autour de ma chambre" of Xavier de Maistre. The editor has broken up the story into six parts that are placed, in italics, at the beginning and end and elsewhere in the book. It may not occur to many readers to read the italicized paragraphs continuously, and so discover the masterpiece of story-telling they are confronted with. For that reason, I wish the story had not been broken up.

When the notes specify rearrangement I have been led, out of curiosity, to see what the rearrangements are. In themselves they are usually slight: the beginning of a sentence altered by two or three words for the sake of a transition; or a paragraph transposed or inserted into the middle of another paragraph, in a slightly different context. It is occasionally disconcerting to find that items follow one another sometimes with no white space or printer's symbol to warn the reader that the source has shifted. In two instances material from the journal is misdated. Passages are sometimes identified not by a phrase taken from the text, as is customary, but by the subject under consideration, with the result that identification becomes uncertain. And a note like "Except as noted, the remainder of this chapter, mostly written between 1932 and 1937, comes from Antaeus, JOAP" ["Journal of a Poet," the title given to the selections from the journal that were published in the New Yorker], and the LB papers" is perhaps a bit slapdash. More serious than any of these things, however, is that the journal has been tightened up, made continually "relevant" to a theme that the editor is interested in presenting. The result is that the natural and always mysterious and, in the case of a poet, important association of ideas has been tampered with. For example, in the book the statement

The poet represses the outright narrative of his life. He absorbs it, along with life itself. The repressed becomes the poem. Actually, I have written down my experiences in the closest detail. But the rough and vulgar facts are not there.

stands by itself with a printer's decoration separating it from the preceding material. In the journal it is part of an entry that begins "Terrible dreams!" and goes on to describe a morning of wind and rain, the tail end of a hurricane. And the paragraph in question is followed by a sentence from Chekhov: "And all things are forgiven and it would be strange not to forgive." It seems to me that there has been a loss, intellectually and emotionally.

A case for editing can always be made, but the simple truth is that you cannot rearrange any writer's work without in some way altering the effect, and if it is a writer of the first quality, is it yours to rearrange, morally speaking? On the other hand, would any publisher have been willing to publish, in the year 1980, a small volume of the fragmented and not very voluminous journal of a first-rate but never wildly popular poet? The answer to this question, I am afraid, is no.

In a chronology at the beginning of the book, and by means of entries here and there, some if not all of the rough and vulgar facts of Louise Bogan's life are made known. She was born in Livermore Falls, Maine, in 1897. Her father found it hard to make a living, and moved his family from one ugly decaying Massachusetts mill town to another. They lived sometimes in a house of their own, more often in shabby hotels and boardinghouses. It was a world teetering on the edge of nightmare. Of her mother she says,

Secrecy was bound up in her nature. She could not go from one room to another without the intense purpose that must cover itself with stealth. She closed the door as though she had said good-bye to me and to truth and to the lamp she had cleaned that morning and to the table soon to be laid for supper…. When she stood in front of the mirror adjusting her veil, it could mean she was going to church or downtown, but it could also be that she was going to the city, to her other world; it could mean trouble.

After witnessing a violent scene between her mother and father that she was too young to understand, she was gathered up in her mother's arms and when she woke the next morning she and her mother and another woman were in a wooden summerhouse on a lawn in front of a house she had never seen before. Once her mother was gone for weeks and they had no idea where she was or with whom. "A terrible, unhappy, lost, spoiled, bad-tempered child. A tender, contrite woman, with, somewhere in her blood, the rake's recklessness, the baffled artist's despair" is her summing up of this central figure of her childhood. And again, speaking of her mother:

I never truly feared her. Her tenderness was the other side of her terror. Perhaps, by this time, I had already become what I was for half my life: the semblance of a girl, in which some desires and illusions had been early assassinated: shot dead.

She was lucky in her schooling, and quick to educate herself. She began writing poetry in her early teens. After a year at Boston University she was offered a scholarship at Radcliffe and instead of taking it she married Curt Alexander, a corporal in the Army. He was, by her own description, a beautiful man and she was in love with him, but she also wanted to escape from her mother. When her husband was transferred to the Canal Zone she followed him, four months pregnant and so seasick when she arrived that she was taken off the boat on a stretcher. The unchanging tropical landscape struck her as hostile, and the marriage was a mistake. ("All we had in common was sex. Nothing to talk about. We played cards.") She left him twice, the second time permanently, and he died at 32. She supported herself and her infant daughter by workings as a clerk in Brentano's and then as an assistant in various branches of the New York Public Library. Marianne Moore was working in one of them, but shyness prevented the younger woman from introducing herself. In 1922 Harriet Monroe took five of her poems for Poetry, and she went abroad on her widow's pension, to study the piano in Vienna. Her first published criticism was a review of D. H. Lawrence's "Birds, Beasts, and Flowers" for The New Republic, two years later. That same year her first book of poems was published by Robert M. McBride and Company. She married the poet Raymond Holden in 1925, and in 1931 had her first breakdown. ("I refused to fall apart, so I had to be taken apart, like a watch.") In 1933 she got a Guggenheim fellowship and went abroad for several months. While she was gone, her husband had an affair, which she found out about and could not forgive. She continued to live with him for a few months and then left him, though she was still deeply in love with him. According to John Hall Wheelock, who was her editor at Scribner's and her friend, the poet was damaged as well as the woman. She wrote very few poems from then until the very end of her life and even that recovery amounted to a handful of marvelous poems, not an outpouring. She supported herself by reviewing, by spells of teaching here and there, and by public readings. She had a lifelong fear that the squalor of her childhood would overtake her in old age. It did not. She was given many awards and honors. In 1965 she had a third breakdown, and recovered, and on the 4th of February, 1970, died alone in her apartment on West 169th Street, almost in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge.

It is a life equally full of accomplishment and suffering. The suffering was of a particularly terrible kind, but madness did not prevail. "It is not possible," she said,

for a poet, writing in any language, to protect himself from the tragic elements in human life…. These are the subjects that the poet must speak of nearly from the first moment that he begins to speak.

Robert B. Shaw (review date 27 December 1980)

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SOURCE: "'The Life-Saving Process,'" in The Nation, New York, Vol. 231, No. 22, December 27, 1980, pp. 710-12.

[Shaw is an American poet, educator, and editor whose works include The Wonder of Seeing Double (1988). Below, he provides an overview of Journey around My Room, discussing in particular Bogan's difficult life.]

Every part of the subtitle of this book [Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Louise Bogan, A Mosaic by Ruth Limmer] deserves comment. Louise Bogan, the well-known poet and critic who died at age 72 in 1970, never completed what in conventional terms could be called an autobiography. "Mosaic" is an apt word for this assemblage by Ruth Limmer, Bogan's literary executor, of widely disparate writings of a personal bent—journals and notebooks, short stories, articles, letters and poems (including a few not before published). In Limmer's imaginative but unobtrusive arrangement, these fragments fuse in a greater unity than one would have thought possible. Gaps, some of them considerable, remain; this is not a full self-portrait but a revealing sketch for one. As a much-anthologized poet and The New Yorker's regular reviewer of verse, Bogan could have sought the public eye as assiduously as some of her contemporaries—Edna St. Vincent Millay, for example. Privacy remained her passion, however; she met life with the wariness of one who was her own sole protector. Given her intense reticence and the traumatic quality of the past that was hers to remember, it is remarkable that she got as much on paper as she did.

As a record of events, the book is by no means sunny reading. Although Bogan had that talent often observed in Irish lapsed Catholics for taking things hard, much that happened to her would have been hard on anyone. Her greatly loved elder brother was killed in World War I. She had two bad marriages. The first, briefer one was to an army officer whom she wedded at 19 in a spirit of rebellious escape, and with whom it soon became apparent she had nothing in common. The second marriage, longer and more emotionally destructive, was to Raymond Holden, a now forgotten lyric poet whose talent did not begin to approach hers. She lived through phases of near-alcoholism, and was hospitalized several times for psychic strain. As with most writers, she struggled during her life to stay solvent, and often found it a losing battle.

In her last years she wrote little verse and found it harder to withstand, even with the help of drugs, the waves of depression that increasingly engulfed her. Some of these agonies come clear only in Limmer's introduction and table of chronology. Except for a tense account of the breakup of her marriage to Holden, Bogan's treatment of cheerless adult experiences is oblique and elliptical. What she writes of more amply is the unhappy childhood that lay behind and no doubt determined some of these later events. It was those earliest wounds—which people may at length grow used to, but can never in a lifetime outgrow—that she felt compelled to uncover.

Bogan's parents were antithetical personalities who could not finally break away from each other; the household was a place of continual strife. "I must have experienced violence from birth," she writes. "But I remember it, at first, as only bound up with flight." She sets down a typical scene:

It is in lamplight, with strong shadows, and an open trunk is the center of it. The curved lid of the trunk is thrown back, and my mother is bending over the trunk, and packing things into it. She is crying and she screams. My father, somewhere in the shadows, groans as though he has been hurt…. And then my mother sweeps me into her arms and carries me out of the room.

Separations were followed by reconciliations, equally doomed. The child effaced as much of this as she could from consciousness: once, for two days, she went blind. "I remember my sight coming back, by seeing the flat forked light of the gas flame, in its etched glass shade, suddenly appearing beside the bureau. What had I seen? I shall never know."

The father remains a dim figure, always, dogged in his attempt to live with a woman he could not understand. From scattered details one gets a vivid impression of the mother's volatile character, her beauty and recklessness, her alternate fits of boredom with domesticity and of guilty conscience which brought her home from bouts of infidelity. From childhood on, Bogan's feelings about her mother were hopelessly ambivalent. Contradictions bristle forth when she attempts to write about her.

I never truly feared her. Her tenderness was the other side of her terror. Perhaps, by this time, I had already become what I was for half my life: the semblance of a girl, in which some desires and illusions had been early assassinated: shot dead.

It seems likely that Bogan's continued bafflement by her parents was one major reason for the memoir's remaining unfinished. She was too scrupulous to fool herself into believing that she could adequately explain them. And even if she had been able, it seems unlikely that she would have cared to document their misfortunes in a clinical fashion. She had little liking for the confessional style in poetry that was coming into vogue late in her career. "The poet represses the outright narrative of his life. He absorbs it, along with life itself. The repressed becomes the poem. Actually, I have written down my experience in the closest detail. But the rough and vulgar facts are not there." As it is in her poetry, so it is here, in the best of her prose. Facts, whether beautiful or terrible, are not flatly denoted but powerfully intimated in Bogan's rendering of the landscapes and interiors of her childhood: the depressed New England mill towns and the seedy neighborhoods in Boston where she grew up.

Her sharpness of eye and fineness of phrasing are especially apparent in her writing about Ballardville, the small town in Massachusetts where the family lived from her seventh through her twelfth year. She describes the weather of the place, the autumn days when "half the town would lie in the shadow of a long cloud and half the town would stand shining bright, the weather vanes almost as still in a strong blast coming from one quarter as in no wind at all, the paint sparkling on the clapboards." She writes with affection and longing of her neighbor Mrs. Gardner's household, where, in flight from the strain and instability of her own, she first discovered "the beauty of a spare but planned life, in which everything was used." With fervor and a wealth of detail, she catalogues the everyday objects of this house: the piano, the painted china, the "silver card-receiver on the table in the hall." One comes to feel that she is not merely indulging in comfortable nostalgia but re-creating a vision of order that was to express itself in her poetry. "One of everything and everything ordered and complete"—it was with this kind of New England thrift that she ordered the lineaments of her poems, few of which go beyond a page, most of which give an impression of amplitude surprisingly at odds with their brevity.

When she learned to read, comparatively late, it seemed to her that "the door had opened, and I had begun to be free." She remembers:

The stove in the dining room stood out from the wall, and behind it, on the floor, with an old imitation astrakhan cape of my mother's beneath me (as a rug to discourage drafts), I began to read everything in the house…. The coal in the stove burns steadily, behind the mica door; I remember the feel of the ingrain carpet against the palms of my hands, and the grain of the covers of the books, the softness of the woolen cape against my knees.

Later, she notes, her escape was completed as she began to write poetry while attending Girls' Latin School in Boston:

I began to write verse from about fourteen on. The life-saving process then began. By the age of 18 I had a thick pile of manuscript, in a drawer in the dining room—and had learned every essential of my trade.

"She did not like books with no weather in them. Or paintings in which the objects cast no shadows," Bogan writes of herself in a stray note. No observant reader of this book or of her poetry needs to be told this. She loved to chronicle changes in light; in the poems the shadow is an image of transience, a token of mortality and of the inward and outward obscurities that attend our lives. It could be said that she remains partly in shadow throughout this book. But the image serves to suggest something more than tragic foreboding: a depth and substantiality, we might say, without which existence would be impoverished. A balance, exact and unfalsifying, of darkness and light, of passion and intelligence, was what Bogan sought to capture in her writing.

Bogan's correspondence, edited by Ruth Limmer in 1973 as What the Woman Lived, displayed her devotion to craft and her ample, sometimes savage humor. It traced her friendships with Edmund Wilson, Theodore Roethke and other writers, which did much to bring her through hard times. Her habit in letters was to keep her troubles in the background. This new volume, austere and fragmentary though it is, deepens the reader's sense of her character by sounding its more somber notes. It makes evident the vulnerabilities with which she struggled and which she successfully transformed to strengths in her art.

None of her poems are badly written, many are memorable, and a few—"Henceforth, From the Mind," "Song for the Last Act," "To My Brother," "Roman Fountain"—stand among the best in English in this century. Her career was a triumph of courage and modesty. As she said, having received an honor for her writing late in her life, "Not bad for the little Irish girl from Roxbury." Not bad at all.

William Pritchard (review date 4 January 1981)

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SOURCE: "Pieces of Private Feeling," in The New York Times Book Review, January 4, 1981, pp. 4, 24.

[Pritchard is an American critic, educator, and editor. In the following positive review of Journey around My Room, he states that "this mosaic … helped me to a sharper sense of how good a poet [Bogan] could be."]

For years the name Louise Bogan meant for me an accomplished minor poet who did lots of reviewing for The New Yorker; then in 1973, three years after her death, her literary executor and friend, Ruth Limmer, brought out a volume of her letters, [Journey Around My Room] sensitively edited and introduced. No one could read these through without realizing that Bogan was an extraordinary person, altogether larger in wit, anger, passion, contempt for stupidities and proud reticence than one had gathered from the poems alone. This is exactly how she insisted that it be, for as she remarks here, "open confession for certain temperaments (certainly for my own), is not good for the soul, in any direct way." She was also suspicious of journal-keeping, in which the tendency toward "self-regarding emotion … can become overwhelming." It was her belief that "the poet represses the outgoing narrative of his life," and that this repressed material becomes the poem.

Given these strongly held principles, how could she have written an autobiography? The answer is that in fact she didn't, and that what Ruth Limmer has given us in this extremely interesting, often moving book, is a "mosaic" assembled by her from pieces of Louise Bogan's journals, poems, bits of criticism and letters, notebook entries and other fugitive expressions. A perilous enterprise, when the subject in question was such a finished, even austere craftsman, and my guess is that she would have been shocked, could she have read this book, into asking: Is it me? Is it Art? A reader will pass on the first question, but answer the second one in the affirmative. So we stand in Ruth Limmer's debt for this piece of imaginative construction. The first (and most absorbing) part of the book consists of childhood recollections—moody, evocative renderings of growing up in Ballardville, Mass. (near Lowell). Here Bogan's voice is absorbed in remembering: "The whole town, late in October, felt the cold coming on; in bleak afternoon the lights came out early in the frame houses; lights showed clearly across the river in the chill dusk in houses and in the mill. Everyone knew what he had to face."

There is the pleasure in clearly naming the elements of Mrs. Gardner's kitchen, in a house where Louise and her parents first boarded when they moved to Ballardville: "black iron pans and black tin bread pans; a kettle; a double boiler; a roaster; a big, yellow mixing bowl; custard cups; pie tins; a cookie jar…. And I can taste the food: Pot roast with raisins in the sauce; hot biscuits; oatmeal with cream; sliced oranges; broiled fish with slices of lemon and cut-up parsley on top, with browned butter round it. Roast pork; fried potatoes; baked tomatoes…." There are especially vivid portraits of her mother as she cuts apples, or sews, or prepares the house against a hot New England summer day: "The parlor shutters were closed; the inner blinds, behind the long loose curtains, which descended from the tops of the window to the floor (where they lay in brushed-aside folds), were pulled down tightly to the sills. All over the house, the blinds were down." One has similar memories, and Bogan's deliberate, attentive prose startles them into life.

"Why do I remember this house as the happiest of my life?" she asks, adding that she was never really happy there. But it was there that she began to read, thus both combating and deepening the isolation she felt, an isolation that pervades these reflections. For she was, in her word, a "Mick" and a Roman Catholic whose escape from the faith seems to have been prompted by the determination to live her life "without the need of philosophy" and to write poetry which "must deal with that self which man has not made, but been presented with." As much as any poet writing in this century, she had a mind that remained unviolated by ideas, of self or world reform. Like Frost, she was less interested in making the world better than in rendering it in verse, with all its evils and imperfections.

Ruth Limmer's preface is disarming in that she admits that Journey Around My Room is surely not the book Bogan would have written had she chosen to, pointing out further that whatever distortion there is in it lies in its relative absence of humor. One feels this absence especially on turning back to the letters (What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan 1920–1970, ed. Ruth Limmer), so full of tough-minded, healthily sardonic observations, such as her description of Thomas Mann at Princeton ("gives me a pain—I always said his eyes were too near together") or Anaïs Nin ("this totally humorless dame"). I do think that in dividing up the book into 15 chapters, each one headed by a line from a rather feeble Bogan poem called "Train Song"—"Back through clouds / Back through clearing / Back through distance / Back through silence," and so forth—the editor has stage-managed (Ruth Limmer's own term for her editorial role) her subject into an ethereal and portentous figure whom the humorous Bogan, for all her depressions, would have shrunk from.

Louise Bogan wanted her poetry to stand alone, free from the facts of her biography though deeply informed by them. But this mosaic, in some of its juxtapositions of prose and poems, helped me to a sharper sense of how good a poet she could be. At one point she writes about the nostalgia connected with hearing music on the water, or band concerts, or piano music "played however inexpertly, along some city street." The editor puts next to these thoughts a lovely poem which, by virtue of its placement, I truly heard for the first time

      Beautiful, my delight,       Pass, as we pass the wave.       Pass, as the mottled night       Leaves what it cannot save,       Scattering dark and bright.       Beautiful, pass and be       Less than the guiltless shade       To which our vows were said;       Less than the sound of the oar       To which our vows were made,         —       Less than the sound of its blade       Dipping the stream once more.

"I STILL THINK POETRY HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE IMAGINATION. I STILL THINK IT OUGHT TO BE WELL WRITTEN. I STILL THINK IT IS PRIVATE FEELING, NOT PUBLIC SPEECH," she wrote to Rolfe Humphries in 1938. In a poem such as "To Be Sung on the Water," there was nothing desired or promised that she didn't perform.

Carol Moldaw (essay date 1984)

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SOURCE: "Form, Feeling, and Nature: Aspects of Harmony in the Poetry of Louise Bogan," in Critical Essays on Louise Bogan, edited by Martha Collins, G.K. Hall & Co., 1984, pp. 180-94.

[In the following essay, Moldaw examines Bogan's aesthetic principles and style.]

Like T. S. Eliot, and unlike William Carlos Williams, in answer to whom she wrote the essay "On the Pleasures of Formal Poetry," Louise Bogan believed that verse is never free. For her, the music and meaning of a poem are indissoluble, and the experience which inspires a poem must be transformed in order to become a work of art:

"unadulterated life" must be transposed, although it need not be "depersonalized." Otherwise you get "self-expression" only; and that is only half of art. The other half is technical, as well as emotional, and the most poignant poems are those in which the technique takes up the burden of feeling instantly; and that presupposes a practised technique.

Bogan felt that her own work expressed her personal experience without betraying it; experience pervades the poems, but is disguised. As she wrote in her journal, and to an admirer, respectively:

The poet represses the outright narrative of his life. He absorbs it, along with life itself. The repressed becomes the poem. Actually, I have written down my experience in the closest detail. But the rough and vulgar facts are not there.

with my work … you are dealing with emotion under high pressure—so that symbols are its only release.

Autobiographical veracity does not consist of "rough and vulgar facts"—these are replaced by, or released in the form of, symbols. Furthermore, "technique takes up the burden of feeling." In a sense this is incontrovertible, for emotion is always conveyed through the textures of the surface. But Bogan's phrase also signifies that feeling is problematic, a "burden," which it is technique vital function to express successfully. She has no sympathy for technique for technique's sake: "The fake reason, the surface detail, language only—these give no joy."

To describe what, beyond technique, a poem requires to be emotionally effective, Bogan used the term "the breath of life," which connotes both vitality and the rhythmic basis of human nature. In "The Pleasures of Formal Poetry," Bogan traces the pleasure of rhythmical utterance to physical activities, and finally to the human body and breath itself:

I want to keep on emphasizing the pleasure to be found in bodily rhythm as such…. We think of certain tasks, the rhythm of which has become set. Sowing, reaping, threshing, washing clothes, rowing, and even milking cows goes to rhythm…. Hauling up sail or pulling it down; coiling rope; pulling and pushing and climbing and lifting, all went to different rhythms; and these rhythms are preserved for us, fast or slow, smooth or rough, in sailors' songs.

How far back can we push this sense of time?… It certainly springs from the fact that a living man has rhythm built in to him, as it were. His heart beats. He has a pulse…. and man shares with the animals not only a pulse, but an attendant rhythm: his breathing.

Focusing on language as an accompaniment to and preserver of the rhythms of physical acts imparts an importance to form—sound, rhythm, rhyme—that is not dependent on words. Poetry's primary distinction here is that it combines words (descriptions, meanings) with rhythms which in themselves are firmly rooted in the human psyche.

Bogan often expresses her predilection for the rhythmical aspects of poetry through the metaphor of music. Music was one of Bogan's great loves. She once wrote, "you can have anyone who writes 'odic poems.' I'm going right back to pure music: the Christina Rossetti of our day, only not so good. My aim is to sound so pure and so liquid that travelers will take me across the desert with them…." Music is the central image of many of Bogan's poems. The titles reflect this: twelve poems are called songs, and other titles include "The Drum," "M., Singing," "To Be Sung on the Water," "Musician," and "Train Tune." Bogan also weaves sound into other images, often describing a motion along with its sound, as in "Betrothed":

       But there is only the evening here,        And the sound of willows        Now and again dipping their long oval leaves in the water.

The image of willows "dipping their leaves" creates a continuum of rhythmical motion while it refers to, and is meant to evoke, the sound which accompanies this motion. Further, the sounds of the words create the melodious sounds they invoke. In "Old Countryside" we experience the various seasons primarily through sounds:

       The summer thunder, like a wooden bell,        Rang in the storm above the mansard roof,                          .....        … wind made the clapboards creak.                          .....        … we heard the cock        Shout its unplaceable cry, the axe's sound        Delay a moment after the axe's stroke.

The correlation between the rhythmical natures of the aesthetic and natural worlds and the human psyche is at the heart of Bogan's poetry. To a large extent the poems are about poetry and the aesthetic process. Many images central to the poems are of sound and rhythmical motion, two fundamental elements of poetry which also emphasize its connection with human life. The poems most expressive of spiritual peace, like "Song for a Lyre" and "Night," are those in which images of natural rhythms dictate emotional rhythms. The awe and harmony embodied in these poems emanate from a vision of the natural and changing world, and the poems end with a declaration drawn from human experience. The appeal is to a world in which rhythms and form embody otherwise inexpressible emotions. The most peaceful world is neither rigid, with too much form, as in "Sub Contra," nor chaotic, as in the beginning of "Baroque Comment," but fluid, ordered to the point where patterns are discernible.

"Sub Contra," which uses as metaphors the techniques and forms of music, expresses the desire for a pattern that will fulfill passionate demands. The poem exists in an aesthetic vacuum, without a surrounding world. No person is explicitly present: the ear, brain, heart, and rage take the place of an individual. The poem asks technique to "take up the burden of feeling," but technique alone, "like mockery in a shell," is inadequate, until the emotions provide impetus and direction. "Sub Contra" is about the discovery that a good poem "cannot be written by technique alone. It is carved out of agony, just as a statue is carved out of marble":

       Notes on the tuned frame of strings        Plucked or silenced under the hand        Whimper lightly to the ear,        Delicate and involute,        Like the mockery in a shell.        Lest the brain forget the thunder        The roused heart once made it hear,—        Rising as that clamor fell,—        Let there sound from music's root        One note rage can understand,        A fine noise of riven things.        Build there some thick chord of wonder;        Then, for every passion's sake,        Beat upon it till it break.

The desire for "One note rage can understand" is initially countered by a dispassionate tone and an emphasis on a controlled, contrived aspect of music. The first five lines describe the formation and reception of music's sound simply and meticulously, first deviating from exposition with "whimper," which is affective. "Whimper" usually suggests a quality of emotion emanating from the source of the sound—for instance a child whimpers to convey a need. Bogan, however, inverts this. The notes themselves do not whimper, the ear perceives the sound as such, and the passive construction of "Plucked … under the hand" de-emphasizes the musician's role. This inversion conveys the idea that the listener infers, or passively creates, the tremor of the emotional. The ear, "delicate and involute," appears more complex than the music.

Next, the notes are compared to "the mockery in a shell." The metaphor, predicted and supported by "involute," which suggests the shape of a shell as well as the ear, conveys both the emotionally neutral sense of being imitative, and the sense that the music is hollow, without real inspiration. The implication is that this music, like the sound of the sea heard from a shell, is not authentic.

Dissatisfied with this state of things, the poem from here on is exhortative, asking for a note, then a chord, then a rhythm, to inspire the brain in the way the heart once did. Although the music so far has been unsatisfying, the exhortation implies the heart's present inability to inspire the brain without assistance.

As the poem redefines the musical process outlined at its beginning, and shifts from "the frame of strings" to "music's root," the music evolves until it becomes adequate first to the demands of rage, and finally, "for every passion's sake." "One note" and "a fine noise of riven things" expand into "some thick chord of wonder"; and "beat," which suggests a drum, not a stringed instrument, replaces "plucked." The rhythm of the poem also becomes more insistent: the last two lines both begin and end on a strong stress. The hortatory subjunctive, "let," demanding something from no one in particular, delays the necessity of direct address until, at the poem's end, "build" and "beat" demand action from the musician, who had been portrayed as passive. Whereas the music at the beginning was only a mockery, this is meant to be emotionally authentic.

It is the demand, "Then, for every passion's sake, / Beat upon it till it break," which reinvigorates the poem and allows, finally, a cathartic release. The poem's frustration stemmed from its own inabilities—technique alone was inadequate, as was the heart. Only in combination, with directives from the emotions and ability from technique, can the poem achieve its desired resolution.

"Sub Contra" expresses the desire for an aesthetic form which will exemplify, or even create a heightened state of emotion. In contrast, "Baroque Comment" embraces the world and its aesthetic creations and embodies the human desire for harmony. Its theme is the already resolved coexistence of the world, form and symbolic expression.

       From loud sound and still chance;        From mindless earth, wet with a dead million leaves;        From the forest, the empty desert, the tearing beasts,        The kelp-disordered beaches;        Coincident with the lie, anger, lust, oppression and death in many forms:        Ornamental structures, continents apart, separated by seas;        Fitted marble, swung bells; fruit in garlands as well as on the branch;        The flower at last in bronze, stretched backward, or curled within;        Stone in various shapes: beyond the pyramid, the contrived arch and the            buttress;        The named constellations;        Crown and vesture; palm and laurel chosen as noble enduring;        Speech proud in sound; death considered sacrifice;        Mask, weapon, urn; the ordered strings;        Fountains; foreheads under weather-bleached hair;        The wreath, the oar, the tool,        The prow;        The turned eyes and the opened mouth of love.

Unlike any other poem by Bogan, "Baroque Comment" has facets which recall Whitman: parallelism, long lines, and the listing of images. And, unlike many of Bogan's poems, this one contains no "I." Any emotive powers seem to emanate not from the viewer, but directly from that which is viewed.

In the first stanza the images reflect the chaotic organic world and the human destructive forces. Immediately, with the preposition "from," the poem asserts that this organic chaos is the origin of something else, the nature of which is not yet specified. The adjectives emphasize the natural chaos and lack of proportion. Sound, not merely present, is "loud." Chance, in direct contrast, is "still"—perhaps because it is abstract and insubstantial. The earth, "mindless," cannot function as the controlling center; nor can the "tearing" beasts, or the "kelp-disordered" beaches. Both "mindless" and "disordered" are privative, pointing to the lack of control, the lack of human influence, and indirectly introducing the idea of form.

The distinctly human faculties, "the lie, anger, lust, oppression, and death in many forms," each imply a morally antithetical partner. Without the existence of truth, calmness, spiritual love, justice, and natural death, there would be no vocabulary for the other; they are only in the context of what they are not. The line, which begins "Coincident with," also affirms that the aesthetic, spiritual creations which follow in the second stanza neither arise from, nor exclude, the humanly created chaos.

The second and last stanza presents that which emerges from the chaos; it does not ask how the transformation, or the impulse to transform, occurs. "Ornamental structures, continents apart, separated by seas" arise as if by a natural extension of human existence. They are the expression and symbol of the ordering human.

For the poem as a whole, what must be noted, besides the absence of the "I," is that the poem does not contain a complete sentence. The presence of a verb would presume to solve the question of how aesthetic objects or symbols are derived from the chaotic earth. Its absence avoids the question, and precludes the formation of a time sequence. The earth precedes aesthetic creation, but the process may have always been, and may still be occurring. The world is not devoid of disorder; "the lie, anger, lust …" have not been purged even though there are "palm and laurel chosen as noble and enduring." The relationship is posited as continual, and the transformed does not replace either its antecedent or that which is antithetical. However, out of the natural disorder, as though requiring it, comes that which is distinguished by harmony and form.

Some of the aesthetic images are in fact related directly to particular images in the first stanza. "The pyramid" inhabits an otherwise "empty desert"; "the named constellations" contrast with the "kelp-disordered beaches"; the leaves, "palm and laurel chosen as noble and enduring," give "mind" to the "mindless earth, wet with a dead million leaves"; "fruit in garlands as well as on the branch" also contrasts with the leaves' decay. "Speech proud in sound" gives dignity and order to "loud sound," as "death considered sacrifice" does to both "still chance" and "death in many forms."

These images harken to a sense of reason, harmony, and fulfillment: they order, elevate, and immortalize the natural world. The flower is "at last" in bronze—safe from death, consecrated in full bloom or in bud. The phrase "at last" is the most explicit hint of the all but untraceable tone of relief and peace which nevertheless dominates the stanza.

The images loosely follow a progression from the created objects to the implements of creation (themselves created) to the final declaration of the human, portrayed as one passionately receptive. But the nouns are generic, visually accessible only through their universality, and the adjectives and adjectival clauses do not help us see the images. Instead they stress the artifice, the difference between the humanly created and their organic counterparts. The adjectives are all participles, invoking the unmentioned creative force: "fitted marble," "swung bells," "contrived arch," "named constellations," and "ordered strings." Thus, while the created objects refer to the organic world, they have new symbolic connotations, as the fruit of the human impulse and ability to create, to shape objects of beauty and order.

The last five lines, shorter and more sparse, move in quick succession through the images (eight of them are nouns without qualifiers), and thus accentuate the fact that the objects are listed without explicit purpose. At the same time their simplicity de-emphasizes the baroque quality of the list and slows the pace. It is in these lines that the human figure is introduced, and the objects ("Mask, weapon, urn … / … / The wreath, the oar, the tool, / The prow") are closer to the human world. The centrality to human endeavours clarifies what the previous images only suggest: design and pattern, ordering and naming, are expressions of the human desire for harmony and for self-realization.

The ending line, "The turned eyes and the opened mouth of love," indirectly addresses the question of how the transformation from disorder to harmony occurs. As in "Sub Contra," authentic expression can originate only in the emotions. Love, at once spiritual and sexual, is the apex of humanness. The most natural of the poem's images, the eyes and mouth can be seen as the essential link between the natural world and aesthetic creations. It is typical of Bogan that the sensuous image, "opened mouth," also suggests the imminent acts of speech, song, or prayer: the beginnings of expression.

"Baroque Comment" acts as an elaborate reminder. As if arguing by example, it transmits, through images and abstract ideals, a vision of harmony. Unlike "Sub Contra," which arises from dissatisfaction and demands something missing from the poem, "Baroque Comment" posits no dissatisfaction. Lacking a verb, an explicit argument, and a specific persona, the poem affirms a world in which symbols "take up the burden of feeling instantly."

Like "the turned eyes and the opened mouth of love," many of the images which end the poems are of things caught in the midst of incipient, or endlessly recurrent, motion. This is another way that Bogan's poems convey the rhythmic and the emotional together: the motion symbolizes the point of change in both nature and the emotions; in itself it captures the essence of a situation.

"Winter Swan" and "Old Countryside" both end with images of arrested motion. "Winter Swan," which contains the challenge, "But speak, you proud!," poses the "leaf-caught world once thought abiding" as a "dry disarray and artifice," and ends with "the long throat bent back, and the eyes in hiding." "Old Countryside" recounts change in the guise of prophecy "come to proof." The last image, seen "far back … in the stillest of the year," is "the thin hound's body arched against the snow."

Like aesthetic objects, the stilled images bring the world into focus. Each image can be thought of as stilled only by the perceptions of the poems themselves. In the reality of the past they continue—the swan to sing its death song, the hound to leap, the human being perhaps to kiss—but in memory they are caught, and become significant, in these postures of incipient motion. They are cathartic because they direct the reader to the point of change.

Whereas a sense of freedom, or eternity, results when the stilled images seem to be part of a continuum, other images seem frozen in stasis. Stasis is the result of fear, and occurs when the elements of the self and the world cannot be integrated, as in "Medusa," or when the persona is stymied by her inability to perceive and feel fully, as in "Henceforth, from the Mind." These poems, and some of the early embittered love poems, disclose an imbalance between the elements of the self and the world—a desire to escape into a world wholly formalistic, without the dangers inherent in the chaotic physical world. The result is akin to the musical and emotional rigidity in "Sub Contra," which that poem ultimately overcomes.

"A Tale," the first poem in Bogan's first, fourth, fifth, and sixth books, ends with an image of the double. It initially presents the impulse to go past the contrived signs of change ("The arrowed vane announcing weather, / The tripping racket of a clock") and then to escape from the transitory altogether ("Seeking, I think, a light that waits / Still as a lamp upon a shelf"). The last two stanzas suggest that the end of the youth's journey is to be very different from the peaceful and domestic light he seeks:

        But he will find that nothing dares         To be enduring, save where, south         Of hidden deserts, torn fire glares         On beauty with a rusted mouth,—         Where something dreadful and another         Look quietly upon each other.

The language describing the landscape indicates nothing in reality, but instead a mythic, or inner landscape—the dark regions of the self. Though the double figures confront each other "quietly," it is with the quiet of terror. Stillness is not, the youth discovers, synonymous with peace.

The confrontation of the selves, inescapable and uncontrollable, can lead to spiritual death. Things are stilled, but this does not lead to an aesthetic focusing: stillness becomes their nature. Bogan returns to the double in "Medusa," "The Sleeping Fury," "The Dream," and "The Meeting." Like "A Tale," these poems do not exist in the natural world; they are part of myth, or abstract and symbolic. "Medusa" exemplifies the entrapment that results from confrontation with the other self. In the poem it is not, as in the myth, just the viewer who turns to stone; the entire perceived world is paralyzed:

        And I shall stand here like a shadow         Under the great balanced day,         My eyes on the yellow dust, that was lifting in the wind,         And does not drift away.

Only in the poems "The Sleeping Fury" and "The Dream," where the speaker faces the double with "control and understanding," is the paralysis circumvented, and does "the terrible beast … put down his head in love."

"The Alchemist," "Henceforth, from the Mind," "Summer Wish," "Spirit's Song," and "Little Lobelia's Song" also embody the double theme. In these poems the persona is split, implicitly or explicitly, into two irreconcilable selves, usually a physical and spiritual self. "The Alchemist" relates the futile attempt to transmute the substance of the baser self into "A passion wholly of the mind" and finds

        … unmysterious flesh—         Not the mind's avid substance—still         Passionate beyond the will.

The rigidity in these poems stems from a denial of the natural—an asceticism or romanticism which will not, or cannot, accept the dangers perceived in the physical world. As in the beginning of "Sub Contra," the persona is resigned, or even wants, to exist in a circumscribed world. In "Henceforth, from the Mind," "joy, you thought, when young, / Would wring you to the bone, / Would pierce you to the heart" has as little effect as "shallow speech alone." In "Little Lobelia's Song," which is written from the perspective of a spirit "not lost but abandoned," the spirit wants to, but cannot, reenter the "blood and bone."

The only double which is positive for Bogan is that which reflects and expresses the real, as an aesthetic image does. The divided self is built upon fear and depends upon emotional barriers; the aesthetic object, like the images of things caught, focuses. It comes out of the natural world but creates something more and connotes peace and permanence. In "Division," the aesthetic double, the "replica," is the tree's shadow, and it is the shadow, not the tree itself, which is "woven in changeless leaves" and "clasped against the eye."

"Baroque Comment" is a full expression of the world divided into itself and its aesthetic reflection. Its underlying assumptions—that natural disorder contains the kernels of order, that the human destructive forces are akin to the creative forces, that created order referring back to the natural world epitomizes harmony—also underlie Bogan's life-affirming poems, such as "Song for a Lyre" and "Night," which address the problem of form in experience itself.

Emotions and insights, like aesthetic objects, and like the images of things caught, focus and order the world. Conversely, the world itself can be a source of inner exhaltation and freedom. Bogan broaches this in a letter to Morton Zabel:

concerning the heightening which comes to the artist when he acquires the habit of regarding life as mythical and typical. That's only another way of saying that when one lets go, and recognizes the stream on which we move as the same stream which moves us within—that it is time and the earth floating our blood and flesh, floating its own child—and stops fighting against the kinship, the light flows in; peace arrives.

In Bogan, the desire to duplicate things through description is countered by the stronger desire to duplicate and evoke responses to the things perceived. Thus, the poems are often written in the past tense, from the specific viewpoint of memory, and the claims which the past makes upon the present are equaled by memory's reevaluation of the past. Throughout there is a tension between sensuous particulars and the abstract.

In both "Song for a Lyre" and "Night" the speaker gathers strength from the rhythms of nature which, though not all exclusive to night, are perceived as night phenomena. Neither poem emphasizes the speaker's experience until the last stanza, but both return to the human element, with a clear sense of renewal that is caused by the perception of natural, continuous rhythms.

In "Song for a Lyre" the images of the leaves, the stream, sleep, and dream are repeated incrementally. The setting of night exists primarily on two levels—the night as present, and the night as future. The shift into the future is subtle: only the modal auxiliary "must" and the repeated adverb "soon" reveal the future tense. It is as if night is so completely imagined, and so like past nights of the same season, that it is present.

                    SONG FOR A LYRE         The landscape where I lie         Again from boughs sets free         Summer; all night must fly         In wind's obscurity         The thick, green leaves that made         Heavy the August shade.         Soon, in the pictured night,         Returns—as in a dream         Left after sleep's delight—         The shallow autumn stream:         Softly awake, its sound         Poured on the chilly ground.         Soon fly the leaves in throngs;         O love, though once I lay         Far from its sound, to weep,         When night divides my sleep,         When stars, the autumn stream,         Stillness, divide my dream,         Night to your voice belongs.

Here the moments of summer's passing and autumn's return revitalize both the world and the speaker. The recurrence of change is shared: the speaker "again" is in the particular landscape; summer "again," and inevitably, turns to autumn. The change cleanses and lightens the world: the "thick, green leaves" disperse; the "shallow autumn stream" awakens; the speaker is reunited with the memory of her lover.

The speaker's relation to this world is not as a participant, and not even fully as a witness, but as an anticipant—renewed by the signs of approaching change. Furthermore, the speaker is moved not only by the coming transformation of the earth, but by her awareness of the transformation; because the natural changes are foreseen, they occur first within the speaker's mind. Though the images refer to the landscape, they have their origin and effect almost equally in the imagination.

This imagination, however, is not severed from the world, but attuned to it; part memory, it needs only the intimation of seasonal change to infer the rest. The first inference occurs with the change from the present tense ("The landscape where I lie") to the future ("all night must fly"). The landscape is abstract to the point of being nondescriptive; suggesting only that the speaker is outdoors, it in fact encourages the idea that she is being metaphorical, and actually may be indoors. The full phrase ("Again from boughs sets free / Summer") inverts our usual conception of the relationship between the land and the season. Normally, the season is imbued with the power to affect and dominate the land; here it is the land which discards, "sets free," the season. Only with the shift to the future tense, "the thick, green leaves" which the imagination foresees, does the language become more descriptive.

The second stanza further emphasizes the description's imaginative qualities: night becomes "the pictured night," which suggests both night imagined and a night of dreams. The metaphor of the dream "left after sleep's delight" is extended to the stream, "softly awake," as if while dry it too had been asleep. As in "Betrothed," it is the sound that signals the stream's movement and motivates the more visually descriptive language of the "shallow autumn stream" and the "chilly ground."

Although the poem so far indicates the imagined and remembered aspects of experience, it is the external world which has been described, and described in terms of its motion. In the last stanza, the speaker is more prominent, as the awareness of the natural world and the continued remembrance of the lover inspire her.

Many of the images in the last stanza echo images in the first two stanzas, but they are woven together, and not merely reiterative. Even the repetition of "soon" is altered, by the lack of a comma, as if what was soon to arrive had drawn nearer; and that image itself, "fly the leaves in throngs," draws us deeper into autumn than does the similar image in the first stanza. "O love, though once I lay / Far from its sound, to weep," echoing the poem's first line, "The landscape where I lie," introduces the emotions directly, in the past tense.

The object to which "its sound" refers may be either the autumn stream or all the sounds of night. But revealing that the speaker had wept, and in her sorrow had excluded the world, the stanza concludes by capsulizing her revelatory experience. We are first given the conditions ("When night …" "When stars …") that evoke the lover's voice, and not until the last line are we introduced to love, the catalyst that brings the speaker out of herself and allows her to experience the world.

That the effect of the repeated images in the last stanza differs from their effect in the preceding stanzas is due partially to the introduction of the lover, and partially to the interweaving of images. The freed leaves, the returning stream, the stars and stillness are integrated to create a night fuller and more real. The images of sleep and dream, metaphorical in the preceding stanza, also now inform the speaker's reality. The poem has come full circle; from an emphasis upon a reality which the speaker creates, or anticipates, it moves to a reality which is bestowed.

The sense of fullness in this stanza also results from its formal divergence from the first two. It contains one additional nonrhymed line, and a different rhyme pattern, a b c c d d a, rather than a b a b c c. "Stream" and "dream," rhymed in the second stanza, are here a couplet, accentuating their partnership, while the last line's rhyme with the first envelops the two adjacent couplets.

"Song for a Lyre," initially describing seasonal change, ends with the correlation between the perception of the elements and the vivid remembrance of the lover. As such, the poem affirms the soothing power of evocation even as it affirms the soothing power of love.

A later poem, "Night," makes a similar correlation among the elements, perception and the human heart. In "Night," however, the speaker is not explicitly present, and the experience of renewal is more implicit in the imagery itself. Not written in a set stanzaic form, the overall construction relies, as it does in "Baroque Comment," on the suspension, finally the omission, of the main clausal verb. Like "Song for a Lyre," "Night" makes manifest the recurrent, eternal, and healing qualities of rhythmic motion:

                        NIGHT        The cold remote islands        And the blue estuaries        Where what breathes, breathes        The restless wind of the inlets,        And what drinks, drinks        The incoming tide;        Where shell and weed        Wait upon the salt wash of the sea,        And the clear nights of stars        Swing their lights westward        To set behind the land;        Where the pulse clinging to the rocks        Renews itself forever;        Where, again on cloudless nights,        The water reflects        The firmament's partial setting;        —O remember        In your narrowing dark hours        That more things move        Than blood in the heart.

The first three stanzas form the beginning of a periodic sentence that is never concluded. Because the poem's substance resides in the description of ongoing motion, the missing verb (which would act definitively) becomes superfluous. The parallel construction of the adjectival clauses, connected by "where," and the unremitted use of the present tense, indicate the continuity which informs the poem's peaceful mood.

Sensuous particulars relieve the initial abstractness of the landscape; the "cold remote islands" become accessible through images signifying recurrent motion—the "restless wind" and the "incoming tide"—which form the basis for the equally rhythmical, but more detailed, images in the following stanzas. Ending a line with the repetition of "breathes" (the two "breathes," with the pause between them, occupy over half the line, and all of its metrical stress) suspends the poem's motion. The following line, particularly in its lighter sounds and its more visual image, relieves the suspension, and, by giving the verb an object, unexpectedly carries the image forward. This pattern, which recurs in the next two lines (where "drinks" echoes "breathes" and "incoming tide" echoes "wind of the inlets"), evinces a calm, rhythmical, life-imbued landscape.

The expansiveness suggested in the first stanza is reinforced now by more specific images, each of which revolves around the tide or the moving stars. The poem embodies the idea of movement: nothing is static; no motion is concluded; the scene is not limited to any specific night, but is ever-present.

The insistence upon continuing motion is emphasized by the rhymes and sounds which reverberate throughout the poem. The irregular meter rests upon iambs and anapests; many lines end on a falling rhythm (islands, estuaries, inlets, westward, forever, setting, remember), intimating the next strong beat of the iamb. Within stanzas, and from one stanza to the next, words echo each other in sound. In the second stanza, for example, s's, w's, and strong open vowels are repeated, and there is one internal rhyme, "nights" and "lights," in the middle of consecutive lines. The words "wash," "stars," "weed," "swing," "set," and "behind" are echoed by "water," "dark" (and "heart"), "wind," "inlets," and "tide."

By the last stanza, rhythms, sounds, and images, focused on the recurrent motions of the sea and the night sky, have cumulated to the single effect of tranquillity. With the last stanza the poem interrupts itself, breaking the adjectival clause, and the poet addresses herself.

The last stanza brings the poem, for the first time, to the human world, only to remind us that the human being is enriched and strengthened by attending to the natural world. The underlying connection between "blood in the heart," which moves, and the seascape, its essence also expressed as recurrent motion, is that all life, and in particular the salt blood of the human being, originated in the sea. In asserting that to look beyond oneself is more self-sustaining than to dwell, in one's "narrowing dark hours," on "blood in the heart," the poem also suggests that it is the life-sustaining rhythmical forces which connect us to the origins, the essences, of our lives. Implicated in this scheme is poetry; its essence also rhythmical recurrence, it too unites the human with the fundamental forces of life.

Bogan called poetry "the heart's cry" and said that it "gives reality freedom and meaning." She made these aesthetic principles her subject, and took on the double task of "going back to pure music" and expressing "what I have become and what I know." One feels that the endeavours are not separable, but become part of each other in a given poem. Through image, sound, and rhythm, the poems express the desire for and the discovery of natural and aesthetic forms that uplift human consciousness.

Donna Dorian (review date Spring-Summer 1985)

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SOURCE: "Knowledge Puffeth Up," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring-Summer, 1985, pp. 144-59.

[In the following review of The Blue Estuaries, Dorian discusses themes of anger, fear, and womanhood in Bogan's poetry, arguing that "Bogan chose an archetypal perspective which enabled her to circumscribe the demands of narrative, to avoid the culturally accepted gestures of female identity."]

For Louise Bogan, writing wove a lifeline, a silver cord between heaven and hell. No longer plucking self-knowledge from the tree, she reached for the branches of song. How difficult that aspiration when one considers how long women have been punished for the theft of an apple, forbidden to write by the demands of silence and mute suffering. Bogan's poetry was intricately laced with this taboo against self-revelation, which she conceived never in didactic or argumentative terms, but as song. In so doing, she broke with one tradition by keeping to another.

Theodore Roethke, in his definitive essay on Bogan, found that her poetry recalled the lyrics of Campion and Jonson, which frequently served as texts for music. Roethke's aim was to place Bogan's poems not so much as lyrics meant to accompany musical setting, but "as part of the severest lyric tradition in English." Certainly hers is a poetry that "sings," that "imitates music in effect," and not a poetry of speech. Without ever indulging in the effusions of personality, Bogan based her poetry on direct expression which repeatedly filtered the rhythms of colloquial speech into an epigrammatical diction. Her return to the Renaissance lyric—be it that of Campion or Donne—refreshed and aerated twentieth-century poetry as her very discretion seems, nonetheless, to call for accompaniment—a lute, a viol, a cello—and to echo what is felt but is left unsaid: "Pain is a furrow healed / And she may love you most. / Cry, song, cry / And hear your crying lost."

Louise Bogan believed that all her talent came from her mother's side of the family, so that the source of psychic hurt in her life seemed to her also the source of the means of triumph over that hurt. Whatever damage Mary and Daniel Bogan inflicted on Louise's capacity to give and receive "normal" love, they never tried to suppress her gifts, which were brought to birth with the inextinguishable strength of all powers as natural as they are compensatory.

So states Elizabeth Frank, who in her recent critical biography, Louise Bogan: A Portrait, made much headway in unearthing the "actual occasions" which Bogan so meticulously swept out of her poems, her criticism, her public life. Bogan's letters and criticism offer only a fragmentary look at the woman, whetting as much curiosity as they satisfy. And she had difficulty with her memoirs, a task she returned to over and over without finally completing herself. She did not like to reveal.

In Frank's attempt to plait psychological motivations with the poems, she made clear that the privacy of Bogan's work served more than a literary function, that like the poetry itself, it drew its source from Bogan's relationship with her mother. The three poems discussed at length in this essay—"Medusa," "Cassandra," and "The Sleeping Fury"—acted as drawing boards upon which Bogan transformed those complicated feelings toward her mother into a public, lyric poetry.

The daughter of a New England mill worker and a handsome but thorny woman, Louise Bogan was born on August 11, 1897, in Livermore Falls, Maine. In 1882, when Mary Murphy Shields married Daniel Bogan in Portland, Maine, she was only seventeen; for her, marriage was a matter of course and the only available means of gaining autonomy. Instead, it thwarted her desire for cultivated society, and she early lost all romantic interest in her husband. It seems symbolic of the problems that would follow that Mary Bogan would continue to grow after her youthful marriage, to tower five inches above her husband—a fact for which she never forgave him.

Mary Bogan played out her frustrations upon each member of her family. She consorted with other men, deserting home for days on end, leaving no clues to her whereabouts. Though it is difficult to know just how many times this actually occurred, it happened often enough to have broken any sense of security Louise and her younger brother Charles could have felt. On occasion, the daughter would be brought along on these trysts, to sit alone in the hall, "to see the ringed hand on the pillow. I weep by the hotel window, as she goes down the street with another…."

From childhood on Bogan carried the knowledge of her mother's deception, which shamed her and led her to insulate herself from others. Revealing her mother's affairs would only have provoked her mother's anger and threatened the remaining stability of family life. So the harboring of secrets became a norm—and "truth became charged with doubleness."

"I never truly feared her," Louise Bogan later concluded, "Her tenderness was the other side of her terror." Even so, by the age of eight, or even perhaps as early as five or six, Louise Bogan was an exile from conventional life and had become, "what I was for half of my life: the semblance of a girl, in which some desires and illusions had been early assassinated: shot dead."

                  (Elizabeth Frank: A Portrait)

But Mary Bogan did not want her daughter to repeat her mistakes, and encouraged her to attend what is now Boston's Girls' Latin school. There she began to write verse, and she tells us, "By the age of eighteen, I had a thick pile of manuscript in a drawer in the dining room—and had learned every essential of my trade." But in 1916, at eighteen, and much against her parents' protests, she forfeited a scholarship from Radcliffe to marry Curt Alexander, an Army man. Within a year, in the Panama Canal Zone, Louise Bogan gave birth to a child. But the marriage was doomed, just as the marriage of Louise's parents had been, and within a year, Bogan, daughter in arms, returned to Boston. Although the couple attempted two brief reconciliations, they separated permanently in 1919. The following year her estranged husband died of pneumonia.

The widowed Bogan moved to New York. In an unusually brief time, the twenty-two-year-old established a reputation as a literary figure. Her poems began to appear with regularity in the leading journals, and she kept frequent company with Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Malcolm Cowley, Lola Ridge, and Edmund Wilson, who would encourage her career as a critic. At twenty-six, she married Raymond Holden, a writer and sometime editor at The New Yorker. This period hovered behind Bogan's first volume of poems, Body of this Death, of which she would write so eloquently to Theodore Roethke many years later:

And let me tell you right now, the only way to get away is to get away; pack up and go. Anywhere. I had a child, from the age of 20, remember that, to hold me back, but I got up and went just the same, and I was, God help us, a woman. I took the first job that came along. Then there was a depression on, as there is now, not quite so bad, but still pretty poor, and I lived on 18 bucks a week and spent a winter in a thin suit and a muffler. But I was free. And when this time, I couldn't free myself by my own will, because my will was suffering from a disease peculiar to it, I went to the madhouse for six months, under my own steam, mind you, for no one sent me there, and I got free.—When one isn't free, one is a thing, the thing of others, and the only point in this rotten world, is to be your own, to hold the scepter and mitre over yourself, in the immortal words of Dante.

     (Louise Bogan: What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters)

During those early years in New York, perhaps as she sat at her desk, she must have thought how no woman in her family had chosen, could have chosen at twenty-two to survive on her own wits. Now as much an exile from herself as once she had been from experience, she confronted these conditions in "A Tale," a poem of astute self-knowledge. Where once the futility of her family and her marriage had demanded escape, now her own unconscious called her to face something dreadful in herself. Traveling to the precipice of change, she arrived at the first moment of self-consciousness—if she was afraid of what she had seen, the poem, as poised and skillful as its hero, defied that fear. And so it was also the poet and the poem who looked "quietly upon each other."

      This youth too long has heard the break       Of waters in a land of change.       He goes to see what suns can make       From soil more indurate and strange.       He cuts what holds his days together       And shuts him in, as lock on lock:       The arrowed vane announcing weather,       The tripping racket of a clock;       Seeking, I think, a light that waits       Still as a lamp upon a shelf,—       A land with hills like rocky gates       Where no sea leaps upon itself.       But he will find that nothing dares       To be enduring, save where, south       Of hidden deserts, torn fire glares       On beauty with a rusted mouth,—       Where something dreadful and another       Look quietly upon each other.

By dramatizing internal conflict she avoided the insipid revelations of an egotistical personality—"The lyric, if it is at all authentic, is based on emotion, on some actual occasion, some real confrontation," Bogan wrote. Later, poetic reflections would be posed in dialogue and exhortation, in the subterfuges of the mythological mask, often to be enhanced by rhythmical variations, which permitted her, paradoxically, to move out of the world of appearances into the world of the great archetypal presences, to make hers a poetry not of the individual self, but a map of the feminine sensibility.

In "Medusa" Bogan continues to examine the nature of fear, to find it the primary source of evil. "To decapitate = to castrate," wrote Freud in his short essay on the male castration complex, "Medusa's Head." "The terror of Medusa is a terror of castration that is linked with the sight of something—primarily the female genitals, probably those of an adult, essentially those of the mother." Freud's theory, of course, was shaped by the Greek myth, in which the attempts to destroy the Gorgon were, in effect, the efforts of men to overcome and control the threat of all libidinous female sexuality. But in Bogan's version, it is a woman who looks upon the mother. Mutated and mutating, both mother and daughter are condemned, trapped inside the self, outside time.

       I had come to the house, in a cave of trees,        Facing a sheer sky.        Everything moved,—a bell hung ready to strike,        Sun and reflection wheeled by.        When the bare eyes were before me        And the hissing hair,        Held up at the window, seen through a door,        The stiff bald eyes, the serpents on the forehead        Formed in the air.        This is a dead scene forever now.        Nothing will ever stir.        The end will never brighten more than this,        Nor the rain blur.        The water will always fall, and will not fall,        And the tipped bell make no sound.        The grass will always be growing for hay        Deep on the ground.        And I shall stand here like a shadow        Under the great balanced day,        My eyes on the yellow dust, that was lifting in the wind,        And does not drift away.

Though Freud had begun his exploration of the family romance at the time of Bogan's "Medusa," her poem was one of the first to probe the psychological complexities of the mother and daughter relationship. But the fate of Medusa has been seen for centuries as akin to Persephone's, both ravished by dark gods and forced to go among the dead: Persephone reigned as the Queen of the Underworld; Medusa was transformed into a forbidding aspect of the Queen of Death. Persephone's name, in fact, may well be derived from a pre-Hellenic word that has been given Greek form, meaning "she who was killed by Perseus." Jung and Kerényi, in Essays on a Science of Mythology, note the grim, repellent power of these figures:

What we conceive philosophically as the element of non-being in Persephone's nature appears, mythologically, as the hideous Gorgon's head…. It is not, of course, pure non-being, rather the sort of non-being from which the living shrink as from something with a negative sign: a monstrosity that has usurped the place of the unimaginably beautiful, the nocturnal aspect of what by day is the most beautiful of all things.

Inherent in Persephone's mystery is the unfolding of sexual desire which severs her from her mother and the idyllic world of childhood. It is the mythic, unspeakable pain of that separation—and the mother's ensuing anger, the daughter's terror—that rests at the heart of "Medusa," just as it is Persephone who stands before the raging Gorgon in Bogan's poem. As the future looms dark before her, the world becomes an open door, and she is tempted out. But she cannot move; she remains in deadlock, in shadow, eclipsed. She cannot assert herself against the image of the mother any more than she can overcome the consequences of her own sexuality. To break from the past, from the allembracing mother, from the guilt and knowledge of her "monstrous" sexuality, is an act of heresy. She becomes stone and statue, a stilled slayer of the Gorgon/Mother, acting out her trauma. "For becoming stiff means an erection," Freud continued in "Medusa's Head." "Thus in the original situation, it offers consolation to the spectator, he is still in possession of a penis, and the stiffening reassures him of the fact." In Bogan's poem the female speaker, standing as if for eternity under the great balanced day, assumes the masculine stance—in erectus; avoiding her feminine sexuality, she succumbs to non-being.

The tone of Bogan's poem suggests her submissiveness, the severity of her guilt: the uniform syntax is a kind of box, a cage. There is no hortatory voice, no banging on the walls of her prison. The sounds of the words, and not their meaning, delicately modulate from stanza to stanza: a succession of open "a" and "o" rhymes, "fall/hay," "sound/ground," "shadow/away." Bogan cuts away at the myth of motherhood mellifluously. She reverses the Pygmalion myth. The mother sculpts the living daughter into stone, "forever young," "the unravished bride of quietness." The desire for experience is uttered only as longing in the poem's music; its language dissembles.

Behind the music comes the undressing: the poet is afraid of what she has seen—and the consequences of its telling. Between the seer and the seen runs an umbilical cord: An "old barnacled umbilicus, Atlantic cable / Keeping itself in a state, it seems, of miraculous repair," wrote Sylvia Plath in her "Medusa," a poem that detonated the idealized myth of motherhood. Knowledge puffeth up, it deforms us, it expands us, it changes us. Where Plath named Medusa frankly as the mother, in a voice that refused to stay sequestered in decorous language, Bogan submitted to the mother, burying herself musically in a language against which neither she nor her mother could rage. Yet Bogan's poetry made Plath's possible by initiating explorations below the conscious ego, focusing clearly on feminine psychology. As Roethke was the first to note, "the man-in-the-mother"—the mother within—was most urgent to Bogan. By internalizing conflict, she assumed moral responsibility for her subject and its masterly tone. Yet Plath and Bogan carved their demons like recalcitrant marble into poetic form as their poems nearly scorched the fabric of everyday life. Myth validated their fear, stamped it with an archetypal dye, and placed their terror in history—in the country of women. In return Plath and Bogan gave us poems—children born—Bellerophon and Chrysaor—freed from Medusa's fallen head.

The verse of contemporary female poets is marked by an abundance of poems concerned with myth. In the essay "The Thieves of Language: Women Poets and Revisionist Mythmaking," Alicia Ostriker discussed the phenomena:

Since 1960 one can count over a dozen major works of revisionist myth published by American women. In them the old stories are changed, changed utterly by female knowledge of female experience, so that they can no longer stand as foundations of collective male fantasy. Instead they are corrections; they are representations of what women find divine and daemonic in themselves; they are retrieved images of what women have collectively and historically suffered; in some cases they are instructions for survival.

Among the "breakthrough works" appearing between 1959 and 1965, Ostriker cites Van Duyn's Valentines to the Wide World, H.D.'s Helen in Egypt, Levertov's The Jacob's Ladder, Rich's Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law, Kizer's Pro Femina, Sexton's To Bedlam and Part Way Back, Plath's Ariel. Bogan's poetry is omitted, of course, because it predates the works under discussion (Collected Poems appeared in 1953, including "Medusa" [1921], "Cassandra" [1926], and "The Sleeping Fury" [1936]). Yet, however much Bogan's poetry might be considered a precursor to the work of contemporary female poets—for all its attention to the "subterranean tradition of female self-projection and self-exploration," Bogan, even during the radical movements of the Thirties, was opposed to the politicizing of literature. Nor did she ever intend anything like destroying the "male hegemony over language." Rather, as Roethke wrote, hers was a poetry upon which "the ground beat of the great tradition can be heard, with the necessary subtle variations."

Those variations, of course, are important. Like other poets of the modernist generation, Bogan was working through problems implicit in Romantic theory and practice. Although her three mythological poems follow a Romantic tradition of "mythic revisionism" in which "the poet personally experiences forces within the self so overwhelming that they must be described as gods and goddesses, titans, demiurges and demons," in versification and attitude she held to an Elizabethan mode. A poet of disguise and discretion, she employed not only the mythological mask, but the masks of others ("he" as in "A Tale," the child, the girl, the romantic), sometimes omitting reference to the poem's speaker altogether, in order to release herself from the modernist dilemma of subjectivity. Like the Renaissance lyric, her poetry, rarely if ever, dramatized "the voice speaking to itself or to nobody. It was always a directed performance." Remarkably like Eliot in his dictum that "Poetry is not an expression of personality, but an escape from personality," Bogan believed that "the poet represses the outright narrative of his life. He absorbs it, like life itself." This stance served her position as a female poet, as it enabled Bogan to speak not merely for herself, but for the many.

       To me, one silly task is like another.        I bare the shambling tricks of lust and pride.        This flesh will never give a child its mother,—        Song, like a wing, tears through my breast, my side,        And madness chooses out my voice again,        Again. I am the chosen no hand saves:        The shrieking heaven lifted over men,        Not the dumb earth wherein they set their graves.

In "Cassandra," Bogan exhorts the mixed mind she bore toward her own poetic identity as she finds the voice of the sibyl whom Christa Wolf has called, in her own Cassandra, "the first professional working woman in literature," she who stands "as the watchword for the condition of women." Tricked by Apollo, yet intelligent, cunning, Cassandra snatched from the god the gift of prophecy. For her betrayal, for her desire to stand close to the gods and share in their nature, she "would bare the shambling tricks of lust and pride"—like Medusa, to be condemned for hubris, for what in the Greek world held the place of sin. But it was not guilt that Cassandra felt upon her punishment, but misfortune. Nor did she know regret, for the Greeks had no conception of choice, only fate: And so she tells us: "I am the chosen no hand saves." Torn as she is by song, "the shrieking heaven lifted over men," Bogan's Cassandra still owed herself something: "self-knowledge, detachment, cool-headedness."

In humanity's struggle to comprehend its irrational impulses, the nature of death and immortality, the seemingly impossible accomplishments of the male hero have been heralded as victories. But Cassandra's visions, miraculous in their own manner, were vehemently rejected. Victims are often attracted to magic, to psychic phenomena, as if the limitless affect of pain, if fully seen, could actually bring clairvoyance, collapse the barriers of time and space. Poet and seer often share a common ground: suffering engenders the lyric cry. For Bogan it came to awesome consequence as she sought to carve the poem out of agony, to bring the poem "to an unbearable point of crisis." Shaping as it does the beginnings of a Shakespearean sonnet, "Cassandra" is refused turn and resolution just as both were denied to its speaker.

One assumes Bogan truncated the sonnet because its traditional connotations were unsuited to Cassandra's character. Although the form was in common use in Bogan's day, its general lack of success in the hands of other female poets—Millay, Teasdale, and Wylie, for example—led Bogan to take up arms against it. Of the sonnet sequence she wrote:

Women should not write them any more! The linked formality makes chance of discursiveness too great, and the sonnet, as such, is never discursive. It is dramatic; the dramatic lyric framework … The early sonnet sequences (Sidney's, for example) are based on a terrific concept of courtly (demanding) passion and morality. They are pointed. They are channeled.—With D.G. Rossetti, etc., the whole thing begins to dissolve.

       (Louise Bogan: What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters)

And later:

It allows women to go on and on, either praising the lover or blaming him. It also allows shows of complete and utter subservience (women rarely write sonnets in a mood of rebellion). It allows, in fact, infinite, hair-splitting wrangling.

 (Bogan/Limmer: Journey Around My Room)

Bogan gets around these problems in "Cassandra"—and in the three complete sonnets included in The Blue Estuaries—by casting the poem in her "to-hell-my-love-with-you-mode," stating with customary asperity and wit "perhaps we gals are at our best on this note." Though we miss the psychological layerings of Browning's dramatic monologues, the subtle plays between narrator and listener, set in a dramatic framework, "Cassandra" is a soliloquy: alone, she speaks out from the stage of history into a void, into the audience of all time, all space. Bogan here is again a master of tone: although even a completed sixteen-line sonnet might seem unequal to the breath of subject, her compression of the music of terror, of anger and self-pity, revenge and victory, avoids the pitfalls of overdramatization and heroine-worship. She concludes with the ring of epigrammatical closure—a mode which had considerable effect upon lyric poetry, and especially the sonnet, during the Renaissance:

To 'dispel' (to undo the spell) or to dismiss is the epigrammatist's characteristic gesture. In love or hate, praise or blame, he is saying something so that he will not have to say it again. He writes a poem not when he is moved but when he ceases to be. He records the moment of mastery—not the emotion, but the attitude that conquered it.

           (Barbara H. Smith: Poetic Closure)

In the final couplet, "Cassandra" confirms that she is subservient to nothing but her own vision; comprehending her anguish, she conquers it, to some extent, does away with its spell. "The blood jet is poetry," Sylvia Plath wrote. "There is no stopping it." Yet, as Christa Wolf remarked. "Cassandra's prophecies have stood the test of time, and it now seems that it was only she who wholly understood herself." If vision and song are a madness, it is not only because they appear so to the world, but because song comes as a possession: it breaks from the body as Eve sprang from the rib of Adam: divine, and yet made human.

In "The Sleeping Fury" Bogan looks beyond anger to anger's cause, and in so doing makes peace with her demons: both mother and muse. Here is the fury, the spirit of anger and revenge, "Hands full of scourges, wreathed with your flames and adders." Avengers of parricide and perjury, the Furies pursued Orestes even after his acquittal for the murder of Clytaemnestra. In "The Sleeping Fury" at last they appear for a moment appeased:

        You are here now,         Who were so loud and feared, in a symbol before me,         Alone and asleep, and I at last look long upon you.         Your hair fallen on your cheek, no longer in the semblance of serpents,         Lifted in the gale; your mouth, that shrieked so, silent.         You, my scourge, my sister, lie asleep, like a child,         Who, after rage, for an hour quiet, sleeps out its tears.         The days close to winter         Rough with strong sound. We hear the sea and the forest,         And the flames of your torches fly, lit by others,         Ripped by the wind, in the night. The black sheep for sacrifice         Huddle together. The milk is cold in the jars.         All to no purpose, as before, the knife whetted and plunged,         The shout raised, to match the clamor you have given them.         You alone turn away, not appeased; unaltered, avenger.         Hands full of scourges, wreathed with your flames and adders,         You alone turned away, but did not move from my side,         Under the broken light, when the soft nights took the torches.         At thin morning you showed, thick and wrong in that calm,         The ignoble dream and mask, sly, with slits at the eyes,         Pretence and half-sorrow, beneath which a coward's hope trembled.         You uncovered at night, in the locked stillness of houses,         False love due the child's heart, the kissed-out lie, the embraces,         Made by the two who for peace tenderly turned to each other.         You who know what we love, but drive us to know it;         You with your whips and shrieks, bearer of truth and of solitude;         You who give, unlike men, to expiation your mercy.         Dropping the scourge when at last the scourged advances to meet it,         You, when the hunted turns, no longer remain the hunter         But stand silent and wait, at last returning his gaze.         Beautiful now as a child whose hair, wet with rage and tears         Clings to its face. And now I may look upon you,         Having once met your eyes. You lie in sleep and forget me.         Alone and strong in my peace, I look upon you in yours.

Here the mother, Medusa, once her daughter's captor, once captive to herself, returns from the Underworld, from non-being, "Her hair no longer in the semblance of serpents." As the Demeter Erinys she now becomes the "opener of the way," not to death, but to life, her whips and shrieks reshaped as hands, as appeals to justice, harassment now the agency of self-knowledge. Just as the Kore is at root a single entity, so the Fury is recognized in all of her aspects as one, "My scourge, my sister, a child." As actual mother and mother-within, she appears in all of her variety, whole—mending the splintered self, healing the soul's division.

And so Persephone returns, as the speaker of "The Sleeping Fury," risen from her own death, from Medusa's paralyzing stare, to gaze upon her terrible mother, "beautiful now as a child." "It is the Horrible Great Mother that we must conquer in order to reach the symbolic Isis," wrote Bogan to May Sarton in 1955, referring to Erich Neumann's theories. "The symbolism was relevant in my case, I don't know about anyone else's." Seeing, as Neumann did in The Great Mother, the images of the terrible mother as expressions of the consuming unconscious, Bogan must have recognized them as akin to her own psychic foe. Yet the mother, in her luminous aspect, is of "the highest feminine wisdom": "vessel of transformation, blossom, the unity of Demeter, reunited with Kore, Isis, Ceres, the moon goddesses." "To enter into the figure of Demeter means to be pursued, to be robbed, raped, to fail to understand, to rage and grieve, but then to get everything back again." And so she does in "The Sleeping Fury," as daughter nurtures mother, as the mother sleeps like a child whose hair is "wet with rage and tears." From the Underworld, "where the black sheep for sacrifice huddle together," she returns "at thin morning" "no longer the hunter"—and so mother and daughter are reunited, released from the pain of their separation—Persephone risen from the dead, Cassandra from the purgatories of song. Finally fury has become as redemptive as speech. In modern dress, the poem reenacts the myth of Persephone and Demeter, to unfold the mystery of Eleusis: "For to be laid in the fire, and yet to remain alive, that is the secret of immortality."

Elizabeth Frank's careful investigative work led her to the original inspiration for the poem: "L'Erinni Addormentata," which depicts a beautiful Megaera, the jealous Erinys concerned with the punishment of sexual crimes. Bogan brought back a postcard of the image from the Museo Nazionale della Terme in Rome, from a trip made to Europe in 1933 meant as a separation from her husband whom she divorced the following year. And it is fitting that through Megaera, "a symbol before me," Bogan should make peace with "her own punishing rage against her mother's and Holden's betraying sexuality and against herself, perhaps, for wishes and acts confused and obscurely entangled with the people she loved."

For all her admiration of Rilke, Bogan knew how easily poems about art objects lapse into hackneyed statement: by removing all reference to the sculpture, she cleared the poem of all but its true subject. The poem's free verse opens toward an inner expansiveness, reinforcing the "victory of release." Bogan seldom departed from the traditional demands of prosody, believing that without rhyme and meter the poem would cave in beneath the weight of emotion, that formal control permitted the liberation of feeling. Form was responsible for the grace of emotion, for the sensuality of her statement, no matter her subject, as it objectified the poem, creating the distance necessary to look upon it as outside and other. In "The Sleeping Fury," Bogan still exploits form, but in a manner more radical and original than usual. Internally cohesive, its refrainlike repetition of sounds and phrases subtly modulated, "The Sleeping Fury" is almost iconic in form (like many of the poems of Herbert) as the generally three-lined stanzas correspond to her three-headed muse. These many repetitions ("You alone turned away, not appeased, unaltered, avenger," "You alone turned away, but did not move from my side," "You when the hunted turns, no longer remain the hunter," and so on) pivot, return, accrue, as if in litany, until "The Sleeping Fury" concludes in a transformation made possible, it seems, by the alchemy of language itself.

Myth originated in Greek religion as "an attempt to regulate and control man's destiny through ritual." At least in a metaphorical sense, Bogan reenacts that religious impulse here, participating in the mystery of Eleusis through the variety of her repetitions. She "tames and placates" traditional prosody just as she overcomes the oppressive demon of mother and song.

In "The Sleeping Fury," as in "Medusa" and "Cassandra," Bogan chose an archetypal perspective which enabled her to circumscribe the demands of narrative, to avoid the culturally accepted gestures of female identity. In so doing she did not attempt to reclaim the past, but to project the present, to project emotion: "For a writer's power is based not upon his intellect so much as upon his intellect so much as upon his intuition, and his emotions. All art, in spite of the struggle of some critics to prove otherwise, is based on emotion and projects emotion." In her empathy for certain mythological symbols Bogan was transformed by the symbols themselves, to move from "savage innocence," madness, and anxiety to a poetry of mature moral consequence "based upon simple expression, deep insight, and deep joy."

Elizabeth Frank (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: "The Leaf-Caught World," in Louise Bogan: A Portrait, Alfred A. Knopf, 1985, pp. 108-30.

[In the following excerpt, Frank analyzes the poems collected in Dark Summer.]

The poems in Dark Summer are arranged in a loosely chronological sequence. The first section contains poems published for the most part between 1924 and 1927, and is followed by a section devoted to "The Flume," the long poem written in the summer of 1924. The third section consists of a selection of poems from Body of This Death, and is followed by a group of poems "in a later mood." The final section is again devoted to a single long poem, "Summer Wish," which Bogan finished just before she and Holden moved into the Hillsdale house in May 1929. Between the earlier and later groups it is difficult to single out strong differences. The earlier poems emphasize change, the later ones fulfillment, but both groups have a lowering inquietude.

On the whole, Dark Summer is a more difficult, obscure, and satisfying book than Body of This Death. Natural observation gives a new freshness and vigor to Bogan's language, and signals a shift away from the earlier book's almost exclusive preoccupation with the psychology of sexual conflict.

In the very title of the book lies its core of meaning. The phrase dark summer is an oxymoron, a paradox of the senses, capable, as dreams are capable, of reconciling opposites in a chiaroscuro of suggestion and association. Throughout the volume both dark and darkness recur with obsessive frequency. There is the dark of the grave in "Sonnet," of forgetfulness in "If We Take All Gold," of renewing rest in "Tears in Sleep," of shadow in "Division," "The Mark," and "The Cupola." While each of these poems gives a particular force to its use of dark or darkness, in all of them it comes to stand for latency, concealment, and imminence, for whatever lies at a remove from will and control. Above all, it signifies the deepest layer of the unconscious, where hidden instinct gathers force and prepares to obliterate the powers of both reason and resistance by which the "vulgar upper consciousness" makes its claim to mastery.

In the first poem of the book, "Winter Swan," Bogan reveals a new and fresh engagement with observation. Looking at a swan gliding across an icy pond, Bogan's speaker experiences such a moment of acute anxiety that she feels herself estranged from time. The whole poem is about this disjunction and disunity. The romantic imagination can no longer succeed in its attempts to imbue the external world with its own coloring and texture. Garden and earth, which had formerly been compliant with desire, are "hollow," although "Within the mind" and "Under the breast" the "live" and "willing" blood still burns. In the elegiac questioning of the swan's detached existence and the heart's yearning for a landscape like itself, the poem establishes two orders of time, the first being nature's time, the second being what, in "Didactic Piece," Bogan calls "the heart's wearing time," which is time clocked and charted through the seasons of feeling. Swept up in the anguish of perceiving that the world and itself are not the same entity, the poem's voice cries out:

      But speak, you proud!       Where lies the leaf-caught world once thought abiding,       Now but a dry disarray and artifice?       Here, to the ripple cut by the cold, drifts this       Bird, the long throat bent back, and the eyes in hiding.

The labor of acknowledging and putting away the past continues in the next poem, "If We Take All Gold," whose fairy-tale tropes of treasure and house give an aphoristic transparency to an otherwise complex sequence of psychological insights:

        If we take all gold         And put all gold by,         Lay by the treasure         In the shelved earth's crevice,         Under, under the deepest,         Store sorrow's gold:         That which we thought precious         And guarded even in sleep         Under the miserly pillow,         If it be hid away         Lost under dark heaped ground,         Then shall we have peace,         Sorrow's gold being taken         From out the clean house,         From the rifled coffers put by.

First published in The Nation in October 1925, three months after Louise Bogan married Raymond Holden, it represents a truce with the self, enacted after a psychic battle has taken place, the terms of which require nothing less than the dispersal of fiercely hoarded misery. From the "clean house" of the new beginning, Bogan equates "sorrow's gold" with both refuse and stolen treasure which must be "Lost under [the] dark heaped ground" of the unconscious. Only there, leaching into the soil of lost memories, can it serve the cause of "peace."

Having confronted the past in the volume's first two poems, Bogan now goes on, in "The Drum," to crown her labors with triumphal joy, as passionate instinct rises up with full force. A celebration of rhythm, it is one of those poems Bogan wrote with flawless control over diction and meter. As in the earlier "Sub Contra" in Body of This Death, she interweaves consonance and assonance to great imitative effect. It is almost possible to hear the suspended silences between beats, as the poem's percussion just averts regularity and offers continual surprise. This formal gaiety and manifest delight in the pulse and sound of language are precisely the poem's point, the "answer" to the "blood refused" of neurotic suffering.

In "Division," "The Mark," and "The Cupola," Bogan returns to the intense looking of "Winter Swan." These are difficult poems, concerned with correspondences between perceived natural fact and intuitions about absence, isolation, time, and fate, and each abounds in more or less abstract renderings of emblematic configuration. In the first stanza of "Division," for instance, the poet observes shadow with an increasing pressure of selection and compression:

       Long days and changing weather        Put the shadow upon the door:        Up from the ground, the duplicate        Tree reflected in shadow;        Out from the whole, the single        Mirrored against the single.

And just as the speaker in "Winter Swan" had cried out to the silent bird in protest against the dismantled perfection of summer, so here the speaker cries out to the patterned shadow, not to question or protest, but to answer it, as it were, or recount how seeing imprints in the memory an image of the fleeting moment:

       Replica, turned to yourself        Upon thinnest color and air—        Woven in changeless leaves        The burden of the seen        Is clasped against the eye,        Though assailed and undone is the green        Upon the wall and the sky:        Time and the tree stand there.

Had Bogan's journals and notebooks from the 1920s survived the Hillsdale fire, chances are they might have revealed a good deal about her growing interest in perception. We might well have found brief, richly observed descriptions of natural scenes: colors of earth and hills in various seasons, light at different angles and different times of day. These would have made a good deal more evident her affinities with her American Romantic forebears—Emerson, Thoreau, and Dickinson—with whose imaginations hers most certainly establishes continuity. In "The Mark" she writes a "Metaphysical" poem that recalls figures as disparate as Donne and Vaughan and the Surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico (whose early paintings of piazzas transected by menacing shadow were, curiously, called "Metaphysical"):

       Where should he seek, to go away        That shadow will not point him down?        The spear of dark in the strong day        Beyond the upright body thrown,        Marking no epoch but its own.        Loosed only when, at noon and night,        The body is the shadow's prison.        The pivot swings into the light;        The center left, the shadow risen        To range out into time's long treason.        Stand pinned to sight, while now, unbidden,        The apple loosens, not at call,        Falls to the field, and lies there hidden,—        Another and another fall        And lie there hidden, in spite of all        The diagram of whirling shade,        The visible, that thinks to spin        Forever webs that time has made        Though momently time wears them thin        And all at length are gathered in.

Throughout the poem, Bogan concentrates on the fateful indivisibility of man and shadow, capturing the dread of mortality implicit in the notion of time as a web and the urgent desire for escape that it breeds. Only at noon—the shadowless moment—is escape possible, when the eye is momentarily deceived into an illusion of timelessness. But time moves inexorably on, as the apples of late summer drop "unbidden" into the lap of mortality.

With "The Cupola," Bogan gives the play of light and shade a more "realistic" treatment, one based, perhaps, on her impressions of an old house in Hillsdale. The mirror hung on the wall of a cupola, with its image of mixed oak and beech leaves, becomes "a handsbreadth of darkest reflection," with darkest sustaining the weight of intimation and imminence that anchors the entire book in disquietude. Yet the mystery of the poem is that the whole scene it records is quite accidental and casual: "Someone has hung the mirror here for no reason" and

       Someone has thought alike of the bough and the wind        And struck their shape to the wall. Each in its season        Spills negligent death throughout the abandoned chamber.

Thus the "abandoned chamber" becomes a camera obscura, projecting the chance episodes of seasonal life with utmost passivity and unintentional art.

Bogan's instinct to compress her meditative and metaphysical impulses into the strict brevity of the formal lyric was sound. In "Didactic Piece," which she placed in the fourth and "later" section of the book, she attempts an extended meditative poem, with largely unsuccessful results. It is impenetrable in places, and fails as a whole, despite some fine passages, particularly the opening evocation of the two orders of time, the human and the nonhuman, and the two orders of reality they command:

       The eye unacquitted by whatever it holds in allegiance;        The trees' upcurve thought sacred, the flaked air, sacred and alterable,        The hard bud seen under the lid, not the scorned leaf and the apple—        As once in a swept space, so now with speech in a house,        We think to stand spelled forever, chained to the rigid knocking        Of a heart whose time is its own flesh, momently swung and burning—        This, in peace, as well, though we know the air a combatant        And the word of the heart's wearing time, that it will not do without grief.

The poem goes on to develop what might be called the internal monologue of an enraptured visionary, cleansed of sorrow, and perhaps guilt, and newly intoxicated with the hold that the visible, natural world has over his imagination. Like a censer, "momently swung and burning—," he is consumed by joy against which he uninnocently guards himself by the warning that grief and change are also part of the nature of things:

       The limit already traced must be returned to and visited,        Touched, spanned, proclaimed, else the heart's time be all:        The small beaten disk, under the bent shell of stars,        Beside rocks in the road, dust, and the nameless herbs,        Beside rocks in the water, marked by the heeledback current,        Seeing, in all autumns, the felled leaf betray the wind.

This reversion to grief and change as a check upon joy occurs not just in the poems about perceiving the natural world, but in a number of lyrics in Dark Summer. "Cassandra" follows "Division," and "Girl's Song" follows "The Cupola." Both of these are dramatic and personal, and both speak of a fatality irreconcilable with any simple acceptance of natural faith. "Cassandra" is the more idiosyncratic poem, an impassioned outburst by the woman who feels the terrible burden of her gift of poetic speech. The mode is emblematic or quasi-allegorical, as it had been in "Stanza" ("No longer burn the hands that seized"), as if the poem were inscribed or engraved as a motto underneath a picture of the doomed Trojan prophetess. Warning those who pursue their own destruction, Cassandra can speak only in the accents of madness, the speech of truth but not of persuasion or belief. She is cursed by clairvoyance, cut off from the ordinary lot of her sex:

       This flesh will never give a child its mother,—        Song, like a wing, tears through my breast, my side,        And madness chooses out my voice again,        Again….

She is the voice of fury itself, "The shrieking heaven lifted over men, / Not the dumb earth, wherein they set their graves." Her knowledge is apocalyptic, her urgency daemonic, the symbol of that part of the psyche which drives the conscious mind to recognize truths it is reluctant to accept. For Cassandra, poetry assaults and afflicts her, setting her off from humankind and rendering her the doomed and solitary witness of "the shambling tricks of lust and pride." Thus the poem serves as evidence for what Harold Bloom was the first to say: that Louise Bogan, while "usually categorized as a poet in the metaphysical tradition or meditative mode … is a Romantic in her rhetoric and attitudes." From its hidden source, poetry creates speech which is profoundly other and opposed to the received notions of men.

A more conventional lyric theme can be found in the strong, simple speech of "Girl's Song." Bogan wrote it in Vienna on May 25, 1922, and its composition gave her some trouble. The first stanza originally read:

       Winter, that is a roofless room,        Tavern to rain, was our love's home.

But she had already used the phrase, "This is a country-side of roofless houses,—/Taverns to rain,—" in "A Letter." Clearly an image based on a vivid memory of New England landscapes, it was changed to

       Winter, that is a fireless room        In a locked house, was our love's home.

This eccentric, sad metaphor captures the bitterness and irony that Bogan sustains throughout the entire poem. She worried about its tone, asking Rolfe Humphries, who wanted to publish it in The Measure during his acting editorship, if it didn't sound "too Housman," too pastoral, melancholy, and ironic. Humphries must have reassured her, since she made no further changes.

It is one of Bogan's consummate "girl's songs," a cross between a traditional lyric on spring's return and a girl's lament for the betrayal of love and her lost innocence. This mix of genres was already familiar in the seventeenth century, where, as in Campion's "The peaceful westerne wind," irony is found in the contrast between spring's return and love's death. Bogan's disabused speaker, however, sees an identity, and an inevitability, in the simultaneity of the two events. Addressing her imagined rival, she prophesies the same fate she herself has suffered, speaking no more as a "girl" but as an experienced woman. Here the heart's time and nature's time beat out the same rhythm:

       Now when the scent of plants half-grown        Is more the season's than their own        And neither sun nor wind can stanch        The gold forsythia's dripping branch,—        Another maiden, still not I,        Looks from some hill upon some sky,        And, since she loves you, and she must,        Puts her young cheek against the dust.

The three poems which conclude the first section of Dark Summer, "Feuer-Nacht," "Late," and "Simple Autumnal," are extraordinary, rich with complex harmonies of sound and meaning. Bogan never mentions "Late" in her letters and papers, and, to my knowledge, it has been over-looked by both reviewers and critics. Yet it is as strong and as bleak a presentation of spiritual desolation as exists in her work. Its images of a broken psyche extend as far back as the brutal desert landscape of "A Tale," as the nolonger ecstatic imagination surveys the "sterile cliff" and "cold pure sky" of its emptied visions. Thus barren, maddening, and mocking, the world stands denuded and hostile. The screaming cormorant, the "Stony wings and bleak glory" that "Battle in your dreams" appear to have walked out of some Yeatsian nightmare. Cryptic as the poem is—for we know nothing about its composition or background—its sense of desolation and derangement is unmistakable. Two poems from the later, second part of the book—"Fiend's Weather" and "I Saw Eternity"—speak of a similar mood of wild embitterment and terrible clairvoyance. In "Fiend's Weather" there is a windstorm of disillusionment, so that the mind now sees the world with a fierce knowledge of reality:

       In this wind to wrench the eye        And curdle the ear,        The church steeple rises purely to the heavens;        The sky is clear.        And even to-morrow        Stones without disguise        In true-colored fields        Will glitter for your eyes,

The same mood of enraptured despair produces the equally driven and ecstatic vision of "I Saw Eternity":

       O beautiful Forever!        O grandiose Everlasting!        Now, now, now,        I break you into pieces,        I feed you to the ground.        O brilliant, O languishing        Cycle of weeping light!        The mice and birds will eat you,        And you will spoil their stomachs        As you have spoiled my mind.        Here, mice, rats,        Porcupines and toads,        Moles, shrews, squirrels,        Weasels, turtles, lizards,—        Here's bright Everlasting!        Here's a crumb of Forever!        Here's a crumb of Forever!

The poem inverts the beginning of Henry Vaughan's "The World":

       I Saw Eternity the other night        Like a great Ring of pure and endless light,             All calm, as it was bright,        And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years          Driv'n by the spheres        Like a vast shadow mov'd.

Vaughan's poem held a deep attraction for Bogan, who was fascinated by the planetary dance. True to her contrast-loving nature, she preferred the pre-Copernican picture of the universe, yet held to her modern sense of man's diminished and dependent position within its law-governed order. It is an act of daemonic despair to break the harmonious unity of Eternity and light, and to feed its fragments to the lowly creatures of the earth.

Bogan composed "Feuer-Nacht" at Yaddo, in August 1926, and like "The Alchemist," it charts the course of relentless passion. Figurative to the point of allegory, but built out of private metaphors, its "shuttered eye," "leafshaped flame," rock, sedge, and grass belong to the same rough geography, that inner New England, of Bogan's early poetic world. In German, feuer means "passion" as well as "fire," and the title's "night of fire" suggests a wild, dangerous, and forbidden conflagration that burns at night, witnessed from a secret place, devouring everything in its path. Like the "fire in a dry thicket / Rising within women's eyes" of "Men Loved Wholly Beyond Wisdom," this is love at its most savage and violent, strangely enhanced through being contained in the stark formality of the poem's structure.

"Simple Autumnal" follows, and it is one of the great lyrics in American poetry. The poem's long lines steadily bear the burden of unreleased, shored-up emotion in a dirgelike rhythm that moves with all the dignity of a solemn procession:

       The measured blood beats out the year's delay.        The tearless eyes and heart, forbidden grief,        Watch the burned, restless, but abiding leaf,        The brighter branches arming the bright day.        The cone, the curving fruit should fall away,        The vine stem crumble, ripe grain know its sheaf.        Bonded to time, fires should have done, be brief,        But, serfs to sleep, they glitter and they stay.        Because not last nor first, grief in its prime        Wakes in the day, and hears of life's intent.        Sorrow would break the seal stamped over time        And set the baskets where the bough is bent.        Full season's come, yet filled trees keep the sky        And never scent the ground where they must lie.

This sleep, this stupor that arrests life appears as the refusal to mourn, a perverse defiance of that process Freud called "grief-work," whereby painful memories must be reexperienced, and relinquished. The tenacious avoidance of pain engenders a deeper suffering. The exhaustion of the girl in "A Letter," who craves only her food "and sleep," the stone speaker of "Medusa," and the stone girl with lifted heel in "Statue and Birds," have all suffered this paralysis, this inability to surrender to the claims of life. Yet, according to natural law, grief exists for precisely this purpose, to awaken the sufferer to feeling and time. Its course is limited, its role "not last nor first." The delay must end, and life win out. Bogan made this point clear to herself in altering the last line. When first published in The New Republic in December 1926, it read: "And never scent the ground where they will lie." This she changed to "And never scent the ground where they must lie," an emendation that precisely defines the poem's conflict, being a statement of necessity, resistance to which is possible only through the narcosis of denial.

The poem is a cry for deliverance not from but to the body of this death, to the liberation of grief and integration into the seasonal cycles of ripening and decay that are the principal themes of Dark Summer as a whole. Behind it lies a terrible fear of sterility and estrangement from natural life. The landscape of "Simple Autumnal" sets forth, as no poem of Louise Bogan's had yet done, the task her poetry as a whole had assumed as early as the adolescent "Poplar Garden"—to seek alliance with life, through art, rather than escape, and to set the wintry, betrayed, stunned, and sleeping heart to beating.

First published in the June 1925 issue of The Measure, "The Flume" was included in Dark Summer, but then removed from all subsequent collections. It is perhaps Bogan's most openly autobiographical poem, and, considering her belief in the superiority of art detached from its source, obviously unacceptable to her. But it was an extremely useful poem for her to have written. Thinking that she was temperamentally unfit for long narratives in either prose or verse, she found that she could tell a complex story set down in long, untiring writing bouts. More important, the poem also allowed her to cut away an abundance of crystalline nuggets from the matrix of childhood memory. In a letter to John Hall Wheelock from Hillsdale on December 7, 1928, thanking him for his praise of the poem, she wrote that she had spent her childhood in mill towns and "was happy to be able to do something with that remembered noise of water." The flume reached back as far as memory could go, to Milton, where she later remembered that it "cascaded down the rocks, with bright sun sparkling on the clear, foamy water. My mother was afraid of the flume. It had voices for her; it called her and beckoned her. So I, too, began to fear it."

The woman in the poem, like Louise's mother early in the century, is married to a man who leaves every day for work. But there the resemblance between the two ends; the woman in "The Flume" is much closer to Louise herself, who, when she was writing the poem in the summer of 1924, was consolidating her relationship with Raymond Holden and trying hard to overcome the distrust that reached back to Milton and her betraying mother. Modeled on Viola Meynell's short stories, but composed in verse, the poem attempts to exorcise Bogan's fear by giving it distance and a separate shape blended of memory and invention.

The poem did not start out as a long narrative. At first, Bogan had wanted only to write a lyric about thunder. "Did you ever have that kind of mindless, idealess compulsion that you must do a lyric called 'Thunder' (or any other name)?" she wrote to Rolfe Humphries on July 22, 1924. Two days later she informed him that she hoped to finish the passage on lightning (which eventually became Part II) and that in it she planned to concentrate on the thunder more than the lightning, adding that "the lightning startles me merely, the thunder would wring me with fright were I a mole underground." By the end of August, the poem had become a narrative, and an exasperating one at that. She informed Humphries that she had lost all interest in its heroine, "who used to rush around the house hoping she'd be betrayed. I'm sure she's been betrayed by this time and has taken to washing dishes and having babies, like any other milky-breasted female, married to a heman." By September 6th, the end was in sight. The lightning passage was finished and there was only one more part, out of four altogether, to compose. At what point the poem strayed from its original preoccupation with thunder to the flume itself has not come to light, despite Bogan's occasional progress reports to Humphries.

The poem's story could not be simpler. The heroine, going about her daily tasks in a fury of suspicion, searches the house for clues of her husband's infidelity. In a sudden storm she experiences her inner turmoil and the outer tumult as a single madness, hearing the sound of the flume, in the momentary stillness between roars of thunder, as a symbol of the love she cannot accept. At last, returning to her home after what appears to be an attempt to run away, she undergoes a moment of illumination that restores her to wholeness and enables her to love and accept love in return.

Throughout, the poem is studded with precisely recalled and imagined details which establish the mingled atmosphere of the simple New England house, its rootedness within the seasons, and the woman's wild emotion:

       The fields have gone to young grass, the syringa hung        Stayed by the weight of flowers in the moving morning.        The shuttered house held coolness a core against        The hot steeped shrubs at its doors, and the blazing river.        She in the house, when he had gone to the mill,        Tried to brush from her heart the gentlest kiss        New on her mouth. She leaned her broom to the wall,        Ran to the stairs, breathless to start the game        Of finding agony hid in some corner,        Tamed, perhaps, by months of pity, but still        Alive enough to bite at her hands and throat,        To bruise with a blue, unalterable mark        The shoulder where she had felt his breath in sleep        Warm her with its slow measure.

She searches the rooms of the house for a letter or a ring, anything "to set her grief, / So long a rusty wheel, revolving in fury," but all she hears is

       … the noise of water        Bold in the house as over the dam's flashboard,        Water as loud as a pulse pressed into the ears,        Steady as blood in the veins …

Because of the "guilt in her to be betrayed," the "terrible hope" that her husband cannot love her, she cannot sleep in peace beside him:

       At night his calm closed body lay beside her        Beyond her will established in itself.        Barely a moment before he had said her name,        Giving it into sleep, had set the merciful        Bulwark of spare young body against the darkness.        Her hair sweeps over his shoulder claiming him hers,        This fine and narrow strength, although her hands        Lie, shut untenderly by her own side.        Her woman's flesh, rocking all echoes deep,        Strains out again toward ravenous memory.        He lies in sleep, slender, a broken seal,        The strong wrists quick no more to the strong hand,        The intent eyes dulled, the obstinate mouth kissed out.        Outside the dam roars. He is perhaps a child,        With a child's breath. He lies flexed like a child,        The strong ribs and firm neck may count for nothing.        She will think him a child. He is weak and he will fail her.

In Part II the terror within is matched by the terror without. The thunder comes as she huddles against the dusty wallpaper, sweeping her up into the whirl of her suppressed instincts—the same movement of feeling presented in "Feuer-Nacht." Suddenly she loves her life and its orderly tasks in "the free still air." This stillness deeply present within her is the stillness (as opposed to the terrible "purpose" of her obsession) of nature in its darkest, most primitive, mysterious, and abiding form:

       —Still—still—everything quieter then        Than the very earth escaping under the plough        The depth beyond seed of the still and deeplayered ground        Stiller than rock; than the blackest base of rock,        Than the central grain crushed tight within the mountain.

Yet she fights this stillness, saying nothing to her husband when he returns except what might be said casually at dinner time about a storm. Still she fights acceptance, wishing to hurl the thunder at the growing earth and the love, the "itching love / So much like sound," pulsing within her like the waters over the flume.

In the final section the woman, who has run away, returns to her house. Her husband is still at work, but there is a good fire in the kitchen that "has turned the stove lids golden-red." As she "pulls the frozen patch of veil from her mouth / And stands, like a stranger, muffled from the cold," her obsession—the "unsated pulse of fury"—returns. But she soon becomes aware of the winter's deep quiet; the flume is frozen solid, its customary roar silenced:

       And here at last the lust for betrayal breaks.        Her blood beats on, and her love with her blood        Beats back the staring coldness that would kill her,        Laying a palm over the ebb and return        Of her warm throat, heard now for the first time        Within this room. Soon he will find her,        Still dressed for flight, quiet upon his bed,        When he has hurried from the weighted cold        Toward the faint lamp upstairs. She will lie there        Hearing at last the timbre of love and silence.

On the subject of withdrawing the poem from later collected editions, Bogan wrote:

I have never been quite sure about "The Flume." It came from the right place, and I worked hard on it, and it has some nice moments—the hot stove and the no-sound of water—which were actually observed and lived with, at one period of my life. Perhaps I have the feeling that one doesn't get out of that kind of obsession so easily—the "facts" are false, at the end. When I'm dead, someone will gather it up and insert it in the works, I suppose. With notes!

The truth was that, in life itself, Bogan had never quite conquered her own obsession with betrayal, and fate had conspired with her fears. The ending is melodramatic and "easy." Still, the heroine's experience of love as the onrush of a bodily force, far from being false, was and remained a central ideal in Bogan's faith, both as an artist and a human being.

Not surprisingly, the poems that come after "The Flume," those Bogan gathered as the fruits of a "later" mood, are filled with further intimations of pain and blight. The title poem, "Dark Summer," published a year after Bogan married Holden, registers a vision of consummation from which the speaker and her companion are unaccountably excluded:

       Under the thunder-dark, the cicadas resound.        The storm in the sky mounts, but is not yet heard.        The shaft and the flash wait, but are not yet found.        The apples that hang and swell for the late comer,        The simple spell, the rite not for our word,        The kisses not for our mouths,—light the dark summer.

Akin to the thunder section in "The Flume," the poem sketches a pastoral ceremony of erotic fulfillment within time. But unlike the late comer, who will receive the fruit and the kisses, the speaker and her lover seem to be caught within a premature, unripe, and unripening love, prevented once again by some nameless obstacle from participating in the flow of natural time and love. Another kind of sexual pessimism haunts "Tears in Sleep":

       All night the cocks crew, under a moon like day,        And I, in the cage of sleep, on a stranger's breast,        Shed tears, like a task not to be put away—        In the false light, false grief in my happy bed,        A labor of tears, set against joy's undoing.        I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.        I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,        And pain's derisive hand had given me rest        From the night giving off flames, and the dark renewing.

Bogan has made this poem the vehicle of an extraordinarily subtle insight into one way in which neurotic grief and suffering ultimately provide a defense against passion. In her "cage of sleep," the speaker of the poem is separated from the "stranger"—the other, the lover—whose presence is true, and real, and as such far more dangerous than the "false grief" that afflicts the dreamer. And "For a Marriage" stops at nothing short of sexual cynicism. Out of a pretty trope of sentimental exchange, which might well have a source in Sidney's "My true love hath my heart and I have his," Bogan constructs an elaborate (and somewhat labored) conceit of marriage as a double-edge sword—the wife's neurotic character—which the husband (suitor-courtier-knight) must "clasp on." In return for girding himself with this weapon, he gets to "keep his life awake," an ever-ready defender of his wife against herself. At the very least, "he will know his part," have a purpose, role, and destiny, and these in turn will shield him against the recognition of his own weaknesses.

In such poems as "Simple Autumnal" and "Tears in Sleep," the mode of contrast, so essential to Bogan's poetic imagination, in which public and private images forge ironic antitheses, resembles Baroque chiaroscuro, in which illuminated masses move in and out of heavy shadow. A description of Renaissance tropes as "both openly resplendent and artificially shadowed" applies equally well to Bogan's figures, with their strongly pictorial contrasts of light and dark. In yet another way her preoccupation with light and dark places her securely within the tradition of the American Renaissance. Critic Clement Greenberg has pointed out that "chiaroscuro, literally and figuratively, was the favorite vehicle of Victorian poetic meaning." Bogan, who apprenticed herself to Victorian poetry, shares the tendency of Hawthorne, Poe, Melville, Dickinson, and, later, James, to work with "oppositions which heave a retreating, inward-directed force like that of contrasts of light and shade within deep space."

Bogan's chiaroscuro took its tone and technique from seventeenth-century lyric poetry, its mixing of private and public symbols from Symbolism, and its precision from her American eye for visual fact. In the brief lyric, "Song for a Slight Voice," a poem in which musical instruments serve as intricate emblems much as they do later in the magnificent "Song for the Last Act," Bogan presents the figure of a heart likened to a viol "Stained with the dark of resinous blood," evoking a cluster of chiaroscuro-like impressions incapable of naturalistic analysis. In "The Crossed Apple," she mixes Yankee and Baroque sensibilities to perfection, blending the traditional fairy tale with a plainly worded yet ecstatic vision of earth, and setting forth the apple as both an archetypal symbol of temptation and fall, and a matter-of-factly observed object in nature, much as Thoreau himself might have discussed it. During the Hillsdale period she was avidly reading Thoreau, and may well have encountered this paragraph in "Wild Apples":

These apples have hung in the wind and frost and rain till they have absorbed the qualities of the weather or season, and thus are highly seasoned, and they pierce and sting and permeate us with their spirit. They must be eaten in season, accordingly,—that is, out-of-doors.

The speaker in "The Crossed Apple" makes a similar claim:

       Eat it; and you will taste more than the fruit:        The blossom, too,        The sun, the air, the darkness at the root,        The rain, the dew,        The earth we come to, and the time we flee,        The fire and the breast.

The surprising end—"I claim the white part, maiden, that's for me. / You take the rest"—is gloriously mean-spirited: the speaker well knows that the red half, "Sweet Burning," is full of love's poison. Such a poem comes out of the freedom to mix genres. In "Sonnet," however, with its stately and solemn language, Bogan displays a sense of obedience toward convention, with somewhat uncertain results. She herself was not absolutely sure about the poem. Writing to Ruth Benedict in March 1929, she asked her friend to be "perfectly critical about it. Is all this bone business just funny?" The bone business was funny. And there was a touch of "fine writing" of the sort Bogan was ordinarily the first to censure. The intricate meditative sonnet on high "Metaphysical" matters was not her forte, despite the recent example of Elinor Wylie's estimable results with the form. Bogan needed a core of drama, common life, and strong speech to give vitality to her work. Yet, in "Come, Break with Time," she writes an extremely meditative, "Metaphysical," and at the same time simple lyric. Vaughan's trope of Time "in hours, days, years / Driv'n by the spheres / Like a vast shadow," echoes in it through the antiphonal language of command and defiance that prevails in Body of This Death but with the exception of this poem is fairly muted in Dark Summer. In this poem, however, Bogan offers two voices, one that exhorts and another that retorts. The exhorting voice, which belongs to the nature-hating will, counsels the defiant heart to cease commerce with change, and its insidious, soothing tones are directed at a heart both wearied and weakened by time. The besieged yet defiant heart can only utter, "I shall break, if I will." The exhorting voice, hearing this ambiguity, bypasses it with its own executioner's sophistry in "Break, since you must," an oracle preempting all choice and counseling only compliance with necessity. This severance from time may be death, but it is more likely the sleep of "Simple Autumnal," or the paralysis of "Medusa," where comfort is gained only by becoming virtually insensate.

With "Old Countryside," Bogan completes the group of poems in the "later mood." Bogan later said that she saw the poem as holding to some of the Imagist precepts, primarily direct treatment of the thing, whether subjective or objective, and strict avoidance of any word not bearing directly on the presentation of the matter at hand. The poem is filled with such directness: the "slant shutter," "mansard roof," the mirrors in the attic (like those in "The Cupola"), the creaking clapboards, the "You" of the poem "braced against the wall …, / A shell against your cheek," the brown oak-leaves, dry trees, the "scrawled vine," the "rose-branch … / Red to the thorns," and "The thin hound's body arched against the snow." As the facts which demonstrate that "all has come to proof," these sharply etched images have the edited exactness of memory, the extraordinary clarity of watchful intuition marking a cycle of fulfillment:

       Long since, we pulled brown oak-leaves to the ground        In a winter of dry trees; we heard the cock        Shout its unplaceable cry, the axe's sound        Delay a moment after the axe's stroke.        Far back, we saw, in the stillest of the year,        The scrawled vine shudder, and the rose-branch show        Red to the thorns, and, sharp as sight can bear,        The thin hound's body arched against the snow.

Pain edges this final vision. The rose-branch stands naked, the hound holds its body back from the snow, and the shuddering vine, in being "scrawled," suggests some indecipherable message which can only be understood in retrospect. The poem's imagery, which on one level is as public and precise as an illustration to some book of très riches heures, is on another level a hieroglyphics of fate.

Published in the August 1929 issue of Scribner's Magazine, "Old Countryside" is Bogan's poem of love and praise to the months she and Holden spent working on the Hillsdale house. It is Holden who braces the wall and holds the shell, the figure of stability and harmony. The two people in the poem have come full circle; they share a past of labor and of lived-out time. Thus the last two stanzas are all the more haunting. The "unplaceable" cry of the cock, the as yet indistinct possibility of betrayal, echoes at the end, and the hound's arched back remains as taut and poised as suspicion.

Harold Bloom, calling "Summer Wish" Louise Bogan's "most ambitious poem," believes that it marks "the crisis and mid-point of her career," but this was to come in the next decade of her life. "Summer Wish," however, does sum up a period of personal and poetic fulfillment, and it is her one great poem in a major style and major mode, capable of standing alongside Yeats's "The Tower" and Stevens's "Sunday Morning" as a testament of renewal and acceptance.

In a letter to May Sarton in 1954, Bogan remarked, "The last time I lived with the full cycle of the seasons was more than 20 years ago, when Raymond and I had the little house near Hillsdale. 'Summer Wish' came out of that." It came, too, out of her obsession with sexual betrayal, which once again provides the poem with its obsessive structure of antithesis. She says, in her prefatory notes to the recorded reading of the poem, that its dialogue form is not strictly an imitation, although "the form of a dialogue between two voices is one often used by Yeats," and adds that the "background of the poem is New England."

The poem's roots reach deep into the history of the English lyric, as far back, in fact, as the medieval lyric, "Sumer is icumen in," which is echoed in the epigraph to "Summer Wish," the opening lines of Yeats's "Shepherd and Goatherd": "That cry's from the first cuckoo of the year. / I wished before it ceased." They are spoken by the Shepherd, the affirmative voice of Yeats's poem, whose wish is objectless, a cry of pure desire simultaneous with the cry of the early cuckoo.

Yet another of Yeats's poems, "Ego Dominus Tuus," provided a model. On May 1, 1929, Bogan wrote to John Hall Wheelock that "Summer Wish" was "really coming to life. For a time I despaired of it; now it has its shape and sound, a climax or two and an ending that really excites me, all in the mind; one or two good intensive spurts will finish it, I trust." She added that it would take the form of "a colloquy between This One and The Other," phrases which are translations of Hic and Ille, the voices of "Ego Dominus Tuus," who act out the Yeatsian division between the known self and its unknown other.

Within this highly formal structure, Bogan presents a meditative eclogue on the problem of despair. The two voices remain voices, not characters, although the subject matter is exactly the same as that in the versified, highly psychological short story of "The Flume." Each voice has its own sound, its own rhythms, diction, and tone through which Bogan shows the power of language to create and sustain a point of view which each speaker assumes to be "objective."

Thus, in "Summer Wish," Bogan's task is not to absorb the negative self within the stronger affirmative self, but simply to get the First Voice to speak the language of the Second. It is no easy goal. The First Voice perversely mis-interprets everything the Second says, throwing out embittered, querulous challenges to it, in an attempt to disqualify whatever the Second Voice offers by way of affirmation or assurance. Wisely, the Second Voice quietly outmaneuvers the First by responding with description rather than retort. But it must work hard. The First Voice proclaims deception, concealment, and doom with consuming pessimism. Summer is not the season of renewal, but the harbinger of autumn and mortality:

       We call up the green to hide us        This hardened month, by no means the beginning        Of the natural year, but of the shortened span        Of leaves upon the earth….

With the knowledge that such despair devours everything offered to appease it, the Second Voice makes no counterargument, but rather mingles pure praise in a surface of pure description:

      In March the shadow       Already falls with a look of summer, fuller       Upon the snow, because the sun at last       Is almost centered. Later, the sprung moss       Is the tree's shadow; under the black spruces       It lies where lately snow lay, bred green from the cold       Cast down from melting branches.

Through this calm exposition, the Second Voice in effect gives a reasonable explanation for the appearances the First Voice regards with dread. It looks forward rather than back, delighting in the inflections of change. To the Second Voice the vernal equinox cannot lie: it augurs the "look of summer"; but the First Voice finds this "A wish like a hundred others," cracking open the Second's optimistic almanac as if it were a bitter nut of delusion. With fanatic resistance, the First Voice shouts out its denials:

       You cannot, as once, yearn forward. The blood now never        Stirs hot to memory, or to the fantasy        Of love, with which both early and late, one lies        As with a lover.

To the first Voice, desire, volition, the capacity to make wishes are not only pure illusion, but blind egotism:

       Now do you suddenly envy        Poor praise you told long since to keep its tongue,        Or pride's acquired accent,—pomposity, arrogance,        That trip in their latinity? With these at heart        You could make a wish, crammed with the nobility        Of error. It would be no use. You cannot        Take yourself in.

This despairing confession forms the heart of the poem. To wish—to be capable of desire—is, in effect, to write a poetry of praise: of what, to the resentful and cynical will, looks like arrogant insincerity and mere literature. Incapable of this simple rite of acceptance and faith, the First Voice bitterly acknowledges its own sense of futility. With its picture of the world stemming from its own broken, paralyzed self, it can only see the world as itself.

The Second Voice, evading the First's animadversions as it had at the beginning of the poem, urges it to "Count over" what exists separate from itself:

      … lilies       Returned in little to an earth unready,       To the sun not accountable;       The hillside mazed and leafless, but through the ground       The leaf from the bulb, the unencouraged green       Heaving the metal earth, presage of thousand       Shapes of young leaves—lanceolate, trefoil,       Peach, willow, plum, the lilac like a heart.

To the First Voice, this vision is neither spontaneous nor true, but made up of disguised remnants of memory and dream. Having failed to relinquish the past, the First Voice sees it concealed in every aspect of the present!

       Now must you listen again        To your own tears, shed as a child, hold the bruise        With your hand, and weep, fallen against the wall,        And beg, Don't, don't, while the pitiful rage goes on        That cannot stem itself?

The First Voice now reveals itself distinctly as a woman's, as it continues its litany of pain and despair:

        Or, having come into woman's full estate,         Enter the rich field, walk between the bitter         Bowed grain, being compelled to serve,         To heed unchecked in the heart the reckless fury         That tears fresh day from day, destroys its traces,—         Now bear the blow too young?

Against this outburst, more a soliloquy than a reply, the Second Voice invokes the pattern and movement of the growing light of early April. It is light "there's no use for," existing purely in itself, independent of memory, desire, dream, or any form of human illusion, and "misplaced" because it affirms a world detached from the human. True to itself, the First Voice senses a snare and rejects this vision of tranquility, conjuring up, in another recapitulation of Bogan's private obsessions, the "betraying bed" and its "embrace that agony dreads but sees / Open as the love of dogs." These are eyes made not to see beauty, but the pornographic horrors of jealousy. For the First Voice, spring's arrival and sexual betrayal are identical, as they are for the speaker of "Girl's Song."

Persistent, assured, and transcendent, the Second Voice offers a visual parable that recalls both "Division" and "The Mark," pointing to the human freedom to make everything, or nothing, from the visible:

       The cloud shadow flies up the bank, but does not        Blow off like smoke. It stops at the bank's edge.        In the field by trees two shadows come together.        The trees and the cloud throw down their shadow upon        The man who walks there. Dark flows up from his feet        To his shoulders and throat, then has his face in its mask,        Then lifts.

In these lines Louise Bogan achieves mature poetic vision, mapping out a place for human life in a universe defined by mortality rather than by man's relation to himself, freeing him from solipsism only to prepare him for death. It is at this point at last that the First Voice hears what the Second has said. Questioning itself, it sees its own madness, its own unintelligibility, and its own brooding narcissism:

       Will you turn to yourself, proud beast,        Sink to yourself, to an ingrained, pitiless        Rejection of voice and touch not your own, press sight        Into a myth no eye can take the gist of;        Clot up the bone of phrase with the black conflict        That claws it back from sense?

Admitting that it perverts reality and speaks in an indecipherable private language which shuts off the possibility of shared meaning, the First Voice goes on to acknowledge its division of "the gentle self" into "a yelling fiend and a soft child." Out of this, the confrontation necessary for renewal takes place, and although its tones are still defeatist, the First Voice accepts "a vision too strong / Ever to turn away."

As if sensing that the First Voice has now reached a point of maximum openness, the Second responds with a Blakean vision of evening: "In the bright twilight children call out in the fields. / The evening takes their cry. How late it is!"

The antiphon of children and evening echoes the epigraph, with its cuckoo's cry and Shepherd's wish. Going on to present a vision of ultimate order within time, the Second Voice brings the poem to resolution:

       Fields are ploughed inward        From edge to center; furrows squaring off        Make dark lines far out in irregular fields,        On hills that are builded like great clouds that over them        Rise, to depart.        Furrow within furrow, square within a square,        Draw to the center where the team turns last.        Horses in half-ploughed fields        Make earth they walk upon a changing color.

As the Shepherd's wish merges with the cry of the bird, the First Voice fits its voice to the Second's: "The year's begun; the share's again in the earth." No longer a traitor to itself, it pours out its joy, rich with the laughter of "the natural life," as Yeats's Goatherd calls it. Laughter draws the poisons, "aconite, nightshade, / Hellebore, hyssop, rue,—" and leaves freedom for the wish:

       Speak it, as that man said, as though the earth spoke,        By the body of rock, shafts of heaved strata, separate,        Together.

The man referred to in these lines is Thoreau, who wrote, on March 3, 1841:

I hear a man blowing a horn this still evening, and it sounds like the plaint of nature in these times. In this, which I refer to some man, there is something greater than any man. It is as if the earth spoke.

This human vision now overwhelms the First Voice:

       Speak out the wish.        The vine we pitied is in leaf; the wild        Honeysuckle blows by the granite.

At last, when the Second Voice speaks to the First, it can guide it, confident of shared vision:

       See now        Open above the field, stilled in wing-stiffened flight,        The stretched hawk fly.

Like the end of Stevens's "Sunday Morning," with its casual flocks of pigeons, and the bird's "sleepy cry" among the "deepening shades" of Yeats's "The Tower," the poem concludes with an earthly moment that makes no claims beyond its own evanescent completeness. Though the poem may well be Louise Bogan's "Resolution and Independence," as Harold Bloom has called it, its assent is not to human endurance, but to nature and time as the something-more-than-human that defines, and gives an unassailable dignity, to the human.

Gloria Bowles (essay date 1987)

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SOURCE: "The Authority of Male Tradition," in Louise Bogan's Aesthetic of Limitation, Indiana University Press, 1987, pp. 19-33.

[In the following excerpt, Bowles examines the influence of the Symbolists, the Metaphysicals, W. B. Yeats, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe on Bogan's artistic development.]

[T]he historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.

            —T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"

May a poet write as a poet or must he write as a period?

         —Laura Riding and Robert Graves, A Survey of Modernist Poetry

I have been thinking about Censors. How visionary figures admonish us …

                    —Virginia Woolf, Diary

[T]hose women artists esteemed by men are not ones to declaim themselves women. Neither in puzzlement or pain (like Lowell) nor in bitterness (like Louise Bogan).

       —Florence Howe, No More Masks!

To think about literary influence in the case of a woman writer is to find oneself in the midst of a special complexity. The woman writer must contend with two traditions: that tradition which has been considered normative, universal—the male literary tradition—and that writing which until recently was not thought of in terms of a tradition but as a kind of minor current flowing below the mainstream—the writing of women. The work of Louise Bogan gives us a particularly compelling opportunity to see how these two traditions conjoin in the poetry and thought of a distinguished woman of letters writing from the twenties through the forties in America. It is clear, on the one hand, that the woman poet comes to the tradition of male poetry from a different route than men; and it is also clear that in one way or another she must contend both with the women writers who preceded her and those who are writing in her own time. Some women poets do not make a point of avoiding the label "woman poet"; Louise Bogan, however, began her career by publicly dissociating herself from other female poets. She made it quite clear she wanted to be placed among the poets of the mainstream (male) tradition. In 1939 Bogan agreed to respond to a Partisan Review questionnaire on literary influence. She had in the past declined such requests, being private both about her life and her influences. By 1939, however, she was more conscious about her image as a poet: She had published three major books and was well ensconced as the New Yorker's poetry editor. The Partisan Review asked if she was "conscious, in your own writing, of the existence of a 'usable past,'" if that usable past was primarily American, and to what extent she thought Whitman and James were crucial to the development of an American literary tradition. It is clear from her response that Louise Bogan's idea of what poetry should be came from that canon of male poets taught in literature courses in high school and college. Her response shows she wanted to be seen in terms of that tradition. She pointed first to her classical background:

Because what education I received came from New England schools, before 1916, my usable past has more of a classic basis than it would have today, even in the same background. The courses in English literature which I encountered during my secondary education and one year of college were very nutritious. But my "classical" education was severe, and I read Latin prose and poetry and Xenophon and the Iliad during my adolescence.

From this early study of the Latin poets Bogan first experienced the pleasures of formal poetry, pleasures of rhythm and control that would remain at the center of her aesthetic. Rhythm for her was bound up with human life: "So we see man, long before he has much of a 'mind,' celebrating and extending and enjoying the rhythms of his heartbeat and of his breath." And: "We think of certain tasks the rhythm of which has become set. Sowing, reaping, threshing, washing clothes …"

In her response to the Partisan Review, Bogan went on to acknowledge the modernist poets and their predecessors who in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century changed ideas of what poetry should be. It is not surprising that Bogan, who was always acutely aware of literary currents and was a self-educated literary historian, looked to these poets:

Arthur Symons' The Symbolist Movement, and the French poets read at its suggestion, were strong influences experienced before I was twenty. The English metaphysicals (disinterred after 1912 and a literary fashion during my twenties) provided another literary pattern, and Yeats influenced my writing from 1916, when I first read Responsibilities. The American writers to whom I return are Poe (the Tales), Thoreau, E. Dickinson and Henry James. Whitman, read at sixteen, with much enthusiasm, I do not return to.

Thus, Bogan's strategy is to invoke the dominant tradition and to place herself within it. I want now to focus on the center of her response, the attribution of influence to the symbolists, the metaphysicals and Yeats, for here are the roots and the flower of modernism, that tradition in which Louise Bogan wanted her own work to find its place. I will save discussion of the only American, and the only woman in this list, Emily Dickinson, for the next chapter, and will remark upon those influences, such as Rilke, who are not mentioned in this catalogue. What Bogan leaves out of this official list is as interesting as what is put in; the list shows us her idea of the way she wished to be seen in terms of the history of poetry.

Thus, before we proceed, I want to add the complication of gender to this list of influences. Only time and distance would make it possible for Bogan to speak directly on this subject. The issues she raises in the following passage from her Achievement in American Poetry, 1900–1950, published in 1951, were barely under the surface as she began her literary career. As she opens her chronicle of the development of modern American poetry—after she had nearly completed her contribution to that development—Bogan puts forward the view that Edwin Arlington Robinson had restored some truth to poetry: His contribution was to bring it "from the sentimentality of the nineties toward modern veracity and psychological truth." Yet, according to Bogan, he "did little to reconstitute any revivifying warmth of feeling in the poetry of his time." In her chapter called "The Line of Truth and the Line of Feeling," Bogan then goes on to point out who did bring that "warmth of feeling" to poetry:

This task, it is now evident, was accomplished almost entirely by women poets through methods which proved to be as strong as they seemed to be delicate. The whole involved question of woman as artist cannot be dealt with here. We can at this point only follow the facts, as they unfold from the later years of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth: these facts prove that the line of poetic intensity which wavers and fades out and often completely fails in poetry written by men, on the feminine side moves on unbroken. Women, as "intuitive" beings, are less open to the success and failures, the doubts and despair which attack reason's mechanisms. Women's feeling, at best, is closely attached to the organic heart of life….

Bogan assiduously avoids "the question of the woman artist" (although in her later years she liked to quote Henry James's line about "that oddest of animals, the artist who happens to be born a woman"). She brings together those seeming opposites, strength and delicacy, as the special characteristics of women such as Lizette Woodworth Reese and Louise Imogen Guiney. Although she did not speak openly about it until the fifties, this idea of woman's gift would have a profound impact on Bogan's assessment of what was valuable in poetry and what she could use from the dominant tradition. As we look more closely at Bogan's public statement for the Partisan Review, let us keep in mind the limitations and problems inherent in any study of influence. For the sake of this study, I define as "influences" those poets from whom Bogan learned the lessons of craft and whose examples gave or denied her permission to express certain kinds of emotion in poetry. The earliest influences were the most crucial ones, those that carried her through her relatively brief lyric career. Ours will be an excursion into the ways in which Bogan's work differs from, and is similar to, those artists she invokes as a literary pattern; for, as we shall see, the male tradition has limited usefulness for the woman poet. It is, in fact, my contention that Bogan absorbed the stylistic lessons of modernism and then used those techniques to elaborate a necessarily different subject matter, the themes of love, madness, and art derived from her life as an American woman. Moreover, as our final chapters will show, although she learned from and used the male modernist tradition, she paradoxically made a major contribution to the development of a female tradition in poetry. In other words, as she used the male tradition, she transformed it for women.

Louise Bogan's letters and critical work contain many more references to the symbolists and to Yeats than to the metaphysicals. She read the symbolists early in her career and then in 1936 she carefully reread Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Rimbaud. ("This morning I got down five or six notebooks, that have been gathering dust in the back closet, and discovered how v. studious I was in 1936. Pages and pages in French and English …" [To May Sarton, 23 May 1954]) Of the three major symbolist poets, I think only Mallarmé had any direct influence on her style, although his subject matter, as we shall see, was not open to her. She identified with Rimbaud's irreverence ("He did the only thing a poet should do: he shocked hell out of everyone by a series of semi-criminal acts, and then he got out, for good and all" [To Rolphe Humphries, 26 Sept. 1938]), but she did not think the "surrealist" mode suitable for women. Most of her writing about Baudelaire was occasioned by new translations of his work, including a 1947 version, which prompted her to speak of "the first poet who saw through the overweening pretensions of his time." She also noted that "the working of this stylistic machine are now outmoded. And nothing is more tiresome than the reiterated subject—so usual in the early Baudelaire—of women as puppet, as sinister idol of the alcove, or as erotic mannequin." Bogan's early understanding of what we now call "images of women" in male literature is remarkable—but what interests us most here is that Baudelaire's French rhetoric was too outdated for a modern American poet to use in any direct way. We can only say that Bogan is distantly related to Baudelaire, in the sense of a long historical line that finally produced modern poetry, since the compactness and the intensity of the modernist lyric do owe something to the author of Les Fleurs du Mal.

We do not always agree today with its critical judgments but Arthur Symons's The Symbolist Movement was important because it introduced the French poets to an English-speaking audience. For Symons, Mallarmé's art of suggestion, the evocation of emotion, the emotion itself in the poem, brought something new to the art:

"Poetry," said Mallarmé, "is the language of a state of crisis"; and all his poems are the evocation of a passing ecstasy, arrested in mid-flight. This ecstasy is never the mere instinctive cry of the heart, the simple human joy or sorrow … which he did not admit in poetry. It is a mental transposition of emotion or sensation, veiled with atmosphere, and becoming, as it becomes a poem, pure beauty.

In this dramatic, hyperbolic passage, we have the idea of an emotion caught by the poet, a technique Bogan imitated. Yet for her there was nothing trivial about "the cry of the heart." In fact, she once said that she could not write novels because "my talent is for the cry or the cahier …" (To Theodore Roethke, 6 Nov. 1935). For Mallarmé, as one contemporary critic has written, "the more rigidly the poetic symbol excludes the world of natural reality and the initial emotion the more closely it approximates the ideal of art." Bogan's poetry depends on this initial emotion: "Lyric poetry, if it is at all authentic … is based on emotion—on some real occasion, some real confrontation," she wrote (To Sister M. Angela, 20 Aug. 1966).

From Mallarmé and the modernist school that followed him Bogan learned distancing, surely. Yet it is a matter of degree; she would not move so far from the emotion as to disown it. Although his extreme attitude toward emotion in poetry was not her own, Mallarmé's technique was instructive for her. In 1954 she praised one of May Sarton's poems because it used a symbol like the center of a wheel, with spokes radiating out from, and returning to, the poem's center: "I liked 'Little Fugue,' unbreakable old symbolist that I am: a central symbol holds all together, and yet radiates…. This grand (in the Irish sense) method Mallarmé passed on to us…." In order to make this point more concretely—and to show how Bogan carved out a poetic territory influenced by, but different from, that of her male masters—let us look closely at one of the most famous examples of a work that articulates Mallarmé's flight into a pure realm of art. "Les Fenêtres" harks back to Baudelaire and looks forward to the English symbolists. I have selected this poem for its expression of a dominant modernist theme; only later would Mallarmé develop to their fullest the new techniques these themes made necessary. There are many other poems I might have chosen to illustrate the escape into pure beauty—and its concomitant flight from life—that characterizes male poetry from the late nineteenth century through the 1920s; I have selected this one because it stands at the beginning of a poetic tradition upon which Mallarmé had enormous influence. For in "Les Fenêtres" Mallarmé imagines a dying man in a hospital, weary of flesh and material reality, who presses his pale face up against a window bathed in sunlight. There he finds a kind of Baudelairian vision of peace and beauty that provokes an overwhelming sense of disgust with the material world, represented as women and children:

       Ainsi, pris du dégoût de l'homme a l'âme dure        Vautré dans le bonheur, où ses seuls appétits        Mangent, et qui s'entête à chercher cette ordure        Pour l'offrir à la femme allaitant ses petits,        (Thus, seized with a disgust of man whose hard soul        Wallows in happiness, where only his appetites        Eat, and who persists in searching for this filth        In order to offer it to the woman nursing her children,)

The dying man-poet would leap through the windows to flee the real world. Remarkably, he sees himself reborn as an angel:

      Je fuis et je m'accroche à toutes les croisées       D'où l'on tourne l'épaule à la vie, et, béni,       Dans leur verre, lavé d'éternelles rosées,       Que dore le matin chaste de l'Infini       Je me mire et me vois ange! et je meurs, et j'aime       —Que la vitre soit l'art, soit la mysticité—       À renaître, portant mon rêve en diadème,       Au ciel antérieur où fleurit la Beauté!       (I flee and I hang on to all the windows       From where one turns one's shoulder away from life, and, blessed,       In their glass, washed by eternal dews,       Which gild the chaste morning of the Infinite,       I look at myself and I see myself as an angel! and I die and I love       —Whether the pane be art or whether it be mysticism—       To be reborn, wearing my dream like a diadem,       To the prior heaven where Beauty flowers!)

This would-be angel must be thrust out of reverie and returned to earth: "Mais, hélas, Ici-bas est maître" (But alas! the world below is master). Forced to live with human stupidity, still, in the final stanza his bitter self asks once again, beseechingly, whether there is a way out, an escape from this life down below.

"Les Fenêtres" is a youthful poem, marked by the excesses of youth, yet it registers the sentiments of many modernist poems written before and after it. These are the poems dedicated to an aesthetic that would take life out of art. In the years that followed "Les Fenêtres" Mallarmé succeeded more and more in achieving "total annihilation of the 'life' emotion which inspired the poem." Aspects of this aesthetic would reach into twentieth-century modernist poetry. In "Les Fenêtres" Mallarmé expresses a disgust for the physical, and in an act of hubris rare for a woman who writes and impossible to Bogan, he imagines himself escaping the Real, fleeing to a transcendent realm beyond the glass. He can even see himself as Ange. The modernist aesthetic, when it posits an absolute division between art and life, is antithetical to women's realities. First, a woman is usually in no position to choose life or the state of an angel; she must go on "allaitant ses petits," feeding her children, if not literally her children, then responding to the consuming needs of real human beings. (And if she chooses to entrust the care of her daughter to others at certain points in her life, the woman poet like Bogan or H.D. is accused of consummate selfishness.) Love and relationship is at the root of Bogan's poetry; when she cut herself off, as she did sometimes, in exhaustion, she could not write.

The reader of modern poetry, then, who comes to The Blue Estuaries expecting the flight from life, the exclamations over the Void that we see in such poems as "Les Fenêtres," will be thrown off guard, even led to say this is not "good" poetry because it is different. The preoccupation with the Void can be traced to Baudelaire's "gouffre" poems; this is the abyss of nothingness that, for Baudelaire, the Catholic moralist, meant confrontation both with a loss of faith and a hanging on to it. The loss becomes complete among many male writers and thinkers later in the nineteenth century, and into the twentieth, which spawned great variations on this theme of the emptiness of life. The final existential attitude, we now understand, was inimical to most women, who as the guardians of life had neither the luxury nor the predilection to think about non-life. We have said that Bogan learned something about distancing from Mallarmé and the twentieth-century modernists but she never took it as far as her male precursors. Put differently, Bogan used modernist examples to rein in her powerful emotions, but she also wanted feeling and human experience in the poem. This use of modernist form distinguishes her both from the male modernists and from the legacy of female poetry that she wished to counter. In "The Cupola" we have both the distancing and the attachment to experience. The speaker enters a dome-shaped room, a setting inspired perhaps by Bogan's Maine birthplace which had "such a cupola and eaves made of gingerbread…." She finds in this upper room a mirror that reflects nature, the outdoors. Trees and the wind appear in this mirroring:

                     THE CUPOLA        A mirror hangs on the wall of the draughty cupola.        Within the depths of glass mix the oak and the beech leaf,        Once held to the boughs' shape, but now to the shape of the wind.        Someone has hung the mirror here for no reason,        In the shuttered room, an eye for the drifted leaves,        For the oak leaf, the beech, a handsbreath of darkest reflection.        Someone has thought alike of the bough and the wind        And struck their shape to the wall. Each in its season        Spills negligent death throughout the abandoned chamber.

The poem illustrates what Bogan learned from the modernists about indirect expression; seen in the context of the other poems in this, her most "removed" volume, Dark Summer (1929), the setting becomes a metaphor for the human capacity for destruction. In the first stanza, there is the feeling of the room, the presence of the speaker in it, and the moving of trees reflected in a mirror. Human agency, something even a little frightening, enters in the second, for "someone" has placed the mirror in this room, seemingly for no reason. Yet it provides an "eye," even a double vision for anyone coming into this secret, shuttered place; the lovely, inspired phrase, "a handsbreath of darkest reflection," brings the suggestion that this room yields the chance for greater self-knowledge. The poem grows more violent in the third stanza, repeating the idea of human agency: There is no choice now but to see clearly the destruction that wind and bough bring in their wake. Emotional destruction of some kind; this we know both from the poem and the volume in which it appears. The atmosphere of absence in the poem is inspired by symbolist techniques as is the evocation of the effect of emotion rather than the specific emotion itself. "Peindre non la chose, mais l'effet qu'elle produit" (Paint not the thing itself but the effect it produces), wrote Mallarmé as he began his Hérodiade. For Mallarmé, the effect would have increasing importance; he would eventually try to shape poetry that was "about" nothing. For Bogan, the rendering of emotional experience was always paramount. In "The Cupola" she stays with the inner experience. The poem is a way of understanding experience, not an escape from it. For Bogan, then, the distancing technique operates to register tumultuous human emotion, the effects of terrible division and destruction, feelings that could get out of control in the poem (and in her life) without a contained method for expressing them.

Mallarmé's fenêtre/mirror, on the other hand, beckons toward a realm beyond material reality; Bogan's mirror functions to see human emotional experience doubly. Her sense of the interior scene is dominant: this woman poet is not looking out the window (or leaping out of it) to find transcendent reality. Rather, she is very much in the room, a space she has created. Like many women (and not because of nature but due to nature) Bogan had a strong sense of interiors. This is evident from her journals, her short story "Journey Around My Room," and from her own rooms, described by May Sarton. Here she is speaking of the apartment where Bogan lived from 1937 until her death in 1970:

I shall not ever forget walking into the apartment at 137 East 168th Street for the first time, after an all-night drive from Washington. I felt a sharp pang of nostalgia as I walked into that civilized human room, filled with the light of a sensitized, bitter, lucid mind. The impact was so great because not since I walked into Jean Dominique's two rooms above the school in Brussels had I felt so much at home in my inner self. In each instance the habitation reflected in a very special way the tone, the hidden music, as it were, of a woman, and a woman living alone, the sense of a deep loam of experience and taste expressed in the surroundings, the room a shell that reverberated with oceans and tides and waves of the owner's past, the essence of a human life as it had lived itself into certain colors, objets d'art, and especially into many books…. Louise's word for this atmosphere was 'life-enhancing.'

Sarton's prose is richly evocative of the surroundings Bogan created for her work. Out of a sense of domestic interiors, her own emotional experience, the lessons of the modernists and the "negative" examples of her female precursors, Louise Bogan created a poem like "The Cupola."

To summarize, then: Although there is some Mallarmian symbolist influence in the qualities of her verse, content is another matter entirely. Mallarmé disdained the crowd; Baudelaire described life as a hospital in which each of the sick desired only to change beds. This attitude is called "the horror of life" by Roger L. Williams in his study of nineteenth-century French authors. I do not wish to dismiss the great contribution of the French tradition but rather to delineate its limitations for a poet like Louise Bogan whose subject matter came from the center of emotional experience. Not impervious to a certain measure of horror and disgust with existence, she nonetheless kept confronting this attitude and reconnecting with a more complex view of life. As we shall see in the next chapter, her sense of the female gift was inextricably linked to the "heart" that women bring to poetry. It is finally paradoxical that one who inveighed against the female tradition ultimately came to define women's talent in almost stereotypical ways and would in her later career criticize those women poets who tried out "male" modes of expression. But of course a stereotyping of female qualities and a revolt against "female" tradition go hand in hand.

The phrasing of Louise Bogan's response to the Partisan Review inquiry about literary influence gives us a clue about the relative importance of her of the "metaphysical" poets. Her syntax suggests they were not crucial: They were a "fashion," a "literary pattern," wedged between the larger influences, the symbolists and Yeats. It is, in fact, hard to relate Bogan to the tradition of metaphysical poetry in part because she wrote very little about it and because it is difficult to say exactly what is meant by the term. Samuel Johnson first named this seventeenth-century mode in the eighteenth, and T. S. Eliot, in an essay first published in 1921 which Bogan may have read, linked it to modernism in the twentieth. Eliot's essay focuses on the stylistic properties of the metaphysicals and on their capacity for thought. Certainly this model did not function for Bogan in the same way as it did for Eliot, that is, as a way to bring thought into poetry. Her work is more reflective than intellectual and this stance comes out of her own experience. Bogan herself had a rather specific definition of metaphysical. Writing to May Sarton, she noted, "You have a metaphysical bent: you desire the universal behind the apparent; you have a passion for the transcendent" (21 Oct. 1961). Bogan's later meditative poetry asserts connections between the human and the natural world, a philosophy that derives from her own experience of change and time. The "sexual realism" of some of the metaphysicals had an appeal for the moderns, says one commentator: "In its earliest manifestations, it was … distinguished by revolutionary and highly original attitudes toward sexual love…. A new kind of sexual realism, together with an interest in introspective psychological analysis … became an element in the metaphysical fashion." Surely the stylistic influence was most felt by Bogan, the "telescoping of images and multiplied associations," "the brief words and sudden contrasts" that Eliot notes in his essay "The Metaphysical Poets," citing Donne's

A bracelet of bright hair about the bone.

Bogan's "To a Dead Lover," published in 1922 and later suppressed, begins

      The dark is thrown       Back from the brightness, like hair       Cast over a shoulder.

Jeanne Kammer was one of the first to point out that women poets come to modernism by a very different route from men. She leads us to another distinction between Bogan's choice of subject matter and the province of the male poets she so admired. For Kammer, the tight, controlled poems of male modernists "represent both a dramatization of and a withdrawal from a culture fragmented, disordered, and lacking in central values and vision." Kammer writes that if women's poems reflect fragmentation, this is an "internal division … a private experience opposed to the public one of men." Bogan felt that those large questions of the relationship between man and civilization were not her province; only men, in her view, could write about the wasteland. This attitude is another example of her internalization of ideas of woman's role. She seemed to accept the notion that because men are the creators of civilization, because they instigate and fight its wars, they are uniquely qualified to write about this political realm. She made a distinction between the internal world and the external and she felt her subject, even the genuine subject, of art was the internal. In the mid-thirties, during the trauma of the Spanish Civil War and the threat of a second large European conflict, Bogan had terrific fights with her male friends about politics. For her, "politics" was the petty, egotistical fight for power among factions, all of them equally ridiculous. Her own lower middle-class origins had something to do with this attitude: The attempt of intellectuals to save the masses was faintly comic to her. Politics was subsumed under something larger, the movements of History, which had a certain inevitability: "'[H]istory' is itself a stream of energy, is 'generous inconsistency'; and … those who work with it succeed best when they realize this, as the artist always realizes it. It can't be pawed out of shape; it must be listened to, before being acted upon" (7 Oct. 1940). It is art that nourishes the soul: "I know, and knew, that politics are nothing but sand and gravel: it is art and life that feed us until we die. Everything else is ambition, hysteria or hatred" (To Theodore Roethke, 14 Dec. 1937). She lamented the effect of politics on the poetry of the thirties: "I still think that poetry has something to do with the imagination; I still think it ought to be well-written. I still think it is private feeling, not public speech" (8 July 1938). These attitudes separated her from many of the male poets of her generation as well as from some of the women. H.D., for example, wrote about the effects of war from a female perspective, focusing on its results for personal relationships; her later poetry would dissect patriarchy and male power. H.D. felt as connected to wars of the present and the past, as affected by them, as men. Millay was criticized by Bogan and many others for her political poetry and activism. We are just beginning to learn the extent of the female literary response to the First and Second World War; the more we know, the more Bogan's rejection of this subject matter seems a "female" response and a further example of the limits she set for her work—limits determined in part by her sense of what was possible to a woman poet of her time who wanted immortality through art.

Bogan's conscious confrontations with the tradition forced her to define herself as a poet. She carved out her own subject matter and her own style. Her emotions were so intense that they often threatened to get out of control: she used the modernist aesthetic to provide a form for her strong feelings. "You will remember, I am sure, in dealing with my work, that you are dealing with emotion under high pressure—so that symbols are its only release," she wrote to one interpreter (To Sister M. Angela, 20 Aug. 1966). If modernism was for her a formal strategy for releasing emotion through symbol and compact form, and a way of putting behind her the influences of her early apprenticeship, such as Morris and Rossetti, it did not lead to the "depersonalization" advocated by Eliot. In the fifties, she located her aesthetic between the "depersonalization" of her era and the new confessional modes. Writing to May Sarton, she pointed out that in poetry, "certainly, 'unadulterated life' must be transposed, although it need not be 'depersonalized.' Otherwise you get 'self-expression' only; and that is only half of art." The distinctions between "transpose," "adulterated," and "depersonalized" are subtle indeed and understandable only within the context of Bogan's interpretation of the "male" and "female" traditions of poetry, which we are studying here, and their relationship to her particular talent. For Bogan, emotion is central to the poem but to no avail without skill: "The other half is technical, as well as emotional, and the most poignant poems are those in which the technique takes up the burden of the feeling instantly; and that presupposes a practiced technique …" (To May Sarton, 17 Mar. 1955). Through the poem the poet is unburdened of that weight of emotion. This idea of the burden of emotion is delineated in a short essay called "The Springs of Poetry," which Bogan published in 1923 and which we will consider in chapter 5. The idea is also strikingly similar to one held by Sara Teasdale. This is Teasdale's theory of poetry as she outlined it in 1919:

My theory is that poems are written because of a state of emotional irritation. It may be present for some time before the poet is conscious of what is tormenting him. The emotional irritation springs, probably, from subconscious combinations of partly forgotten thoughts and feelings. Coming together, like electrical currents in a thunderstorm, they produce a poem…. The poem is written to free the poet from an emotional burden. Any poem not so written is only a piece of craftmanship.

Teasdale's emphasis is on the emotion; Bogan, a member of the generation after Teasdale, a modernist, underlines the companionship of craft and feeling.

Bogan, then, felt herself walking a fine line between the two traditions, the female and the male. Because it emphasizes the expression of personal feeling and experience, her work did not fit in with Eliot's pronouncements on "objective poetry"—an aesthetic position that, we should note, had a profound impact on an academic establishment that did not notice Bogan's oeuvre. By the fifties, Bogan had some perspective on other, more extreme manifestations of modern objectivity. Her review of Auroras of Autumn, for example, again makes her point about life in poetry. "[N]o one," she writes of Wallace Stevens, "can describe the simplicities of the natural world with more direct skill. It is a natural world strangely empty of human beings, however; Stevens's men and women are blood less symbols." She feels that his "technique overwhelms the poem: … [T]here is something theatrical in much of his writing; his emotions seem to be transfixed rather than released and projected, by his extraordinary verbal improvisations…." A preoccupation with technique—sometimes a way to escape feeling—prevents the release of emotion into the poem. In this review Bogan laments that many younger poets try to imitate Stevens as though they did not realize that other kinds of modern poetry tap the "transparent, overflowing and spontaneous qualities that Stevens ignores."

Her belief in a poetry based on confrontation with emotional experience would lead her eventually to Rilke. She read him late, in 1935, writing to her editor, "And I've just discovered Rilke. Why did you never tell me about Rilke? My God, the man's wonderful" (To John Hall Wheelock, 1 July 1935). She used his invention of the Ding-Gedichte ("thing-poems") to great advantage in her later poems. His example may have influenced the title poem of The Sleeping Fury, published in 1937. In that year, she wrote that Rilke was the "rare example of the poet who, 'having learned to give himself to what he trusted,' finally 'learned to give himself to what he feared'." Her collections from The Sleeping Fury onward took as epigraph two lines from Rilke:

      Wie ist das klein, womit wir ringen;       was mit uns ringt, wie is das gross …       (How small is that with which we struggle;       how great that which struggles with us.)

Louise Bogan's lack of attraction to the more life-denying manifestations of modernism would lead her to feel a greater affinity for Yeats than for Eliot or Stevens. In fact, of all the male influences, Yeats was the most decisive in her early formative years, the only poet writing in English to make such an impact. She read his work early, in 1916, when she was only nineteen, thus four years before the publication of her first volume, Body of This Death (1923). Her collected criticism, A Poet's Alphabet (1970), includes five essays on Yeats; one dating from 1938 is entitled "The Greatest Poet Writing in English Today." The affinity for Yeats came on many levels. His intensity, his lyricism, his song, mirrored her ambitions for poetry. His aesthetic was hers: "a style of speech as simple as the simplest prose, like the cry of the heart. It is not the business of the poet to instruct his age. His business is merely to express himself, whatever that self may be." Singing is a major theme in her work as it is in Yeats; for Bogan, music was almost as essential as breathing. Her writing on rhythm in poetry often relates the rhythm of breath and song. She played the piano and grew up in a "family of singers: my mother and my brother were constantly 'bursting into song.' And I began to study the piano at seven" (To Sister M. Angela, 5 July 1969). Like Yeats, Bogan had to pull herself away from the influences of the Pre-Raphaelites; like his, her poems could be both bitter and proud. Above all, she admired his enduring capacity for trying to understand his experiences and then transmuting them into art. Her attraction was even more profound because of her Irish roots, an identification strengthened by the immigrant's experience of discrimination: "It was borne in upon me, all during my adolescence, that I was a 'mick,' no matter what my other faults or virtues might be." There were enormous differences as well, those that can be attributed both to class and gender. Yeats had an aristocrat's education, first at home and then in private schools. His central political involvements were far from Bogan's experience. Among Bogan's essays on Yeats, her longest focuses on his role in Irish struggles for artistic and political independence; eventually she would express some impatience with the more conservative expressions of his political life. Nor did she, as a woman who internalized social stereotypes of femininity, have such grand poetic ambitions; Yeats "read a special symbolism into all his private acts and relationships," writes M. L. Rosenthal; and, as Edward Engelberg has pointed out in The Vast Design, he developed a complex symbolic system to image his thoughts and feelings. Bogan's aesthetic of limitation decreed that such ambitions were not appropriate to female talent. Moreover, she did not think the idea and argument common to prose was appropriate for lyric poetry. One can find echoes of the early Yeats in early Bogan, in the simplicity of passionate language, even in the melancholy tone; yet she would never use symbol in the way Yeats did in his more philosophical works of the late twenties, after he wrote A Vision. In "The Cupola," for example, the image of the mirror insinuates itself into the poem; Yeats, on the other hand, brought to the poem an authoritative or dominant image inspired by his personal mythic system. In fact, much of the power of his later poetry derives from this assertion of a single image.

So far we have seen that the male tradition is authoritative enough that Louise Bogan claimed it and then went on to both selectively use and discard aspects of it. Before we bring to an end this journey into the authority of male influence, I wish to suggest yet another source of inspiration that Bogan did not mention in her catalogue of influences: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I realize we are now speaking different languages; however, the direct lyricism, the lack of interest in philosophical themes in the early poems, the "romanticism"—these qualities Bogan shared with the German poet. She read him (with the help of a dictionary and translations) early in her career and in 1924, quoting the "Wandrers Nachtlied," she wrote to a friend:

         The stripped, still lyric moves me more, invariably, than any flummery ode        ever written—although, of course, Keats and the Romantics were only partly        flummery—but            Über allen Gipfeln            Ist Ruh        gives me such happiness I want to cry.                (To Rolphe Humphries, 24 July 1924)

Goethe had a remarkable gift for spontaneity—his lyrics are among the most inspired, the most direct and unmediated, I have read. ("Über allen Gipfeln," or so the myth goes, was scrawled in a moment of inspiration on the wall of a mountain hut.) This spontaneity stayed with him all his life. Like Bogan, he was often overwhelmed by Eros, although his love poems tend to be happier than hers and his lyric vein lasted much longer. Bogan worked hard on her German so that she could appreciate its poets. In an essay on Goethe published in 1949, she noted, rightly I think, that he is little appreciated by English-speaking readers because the translations are so poor. For what counts in so many of his lyrics is sound. Bogan suggested that those who do not read German listen to Hugo Wolf's songs based on Goethe's lyrics:

Anyone who has listened to the wild longing of the Wolf-Goethe "Kennst du das Land" or to the noble and transcendent beauty of their "Prometheus" and "Ganymed" has experienced the only world it is important to share with any great poet—the world of his intense emotion and his piercing vision.

Late in her life, this strong affinity for Goethe led to translations of several of his prose works, which she worked on with Elizabeth Mayer. Elective Affinities came out in 1963 and The Sorrows of Young Werther and Novelle in 1971.

What Bogan shares with Goethe, then, is at once a devotion to the formal qualities of art and to intense lyricism, that is, poetry inspired by significant emotional experience. Yet both poets felt they had to learn to check their unrestrained emotions; Goethe's early lyrics are overflowing with passion and energy, and in his middle years, he spoke through Faust of the necessity to rein in emotions that threatened to engulf him. Yet he managed to sing of love in old age, too, in the eloquent lyrics of the Westöstlicher Divan. Ultimately, through Goethe, we realize that Bogan's poetry has as much of a Romantic cast as a modern one. Although he does not link her to Goethe, Harold Bloom some years ago recognized this Romantic heritage:

Louise Bogan is usually categorized as a poet in the metaphysical tradition or meditative mode, following Donne, Emily Dickinson, and older contemporaries like Eliot and Ransom. Yet, like so many modern poets, she is a Romantic in her rhetoric and attitudes…. Miss Bogan is purely a lyrical poet, and lacks the support of the personal systems of Blake and Yeats, by which those poets were able more serenely to contemplate division in the psyche. Miss Bogan is neither a personal mythmaker, in the full Romantic tradition, like her near contemporary Hart Crane, nor an ironist in the manner of Tate, to cite another poet of her generation. The honesty and passion of her best work has about it, in consequence, a vulnerable directness.

The last line of this 1958 evaluation echoes Bogan's point of view in her essay on the female poetic gift, "The Heart and the Lyre" (1947), which I shall discuss in the next chapter. Bloom at once underlines Bogan's specialness as he places her within a part of the male tradition that she did not count, whether consciously or unconsciously, as "influence." Bloom's is one of the few critical evaluations before the new feminist criticism that came close to an accurate assessment of Bogan's place in Anglo-American poetry. His last line opens the way to a consideration of gender and poetry—although Bloom is not conscious of this possibility.

Louise Bogan manipulated the white male tradition to her advantage: By studying and using modernism's lessons, she put herself within the reigning tradition. This was only half of her task; the other was to dissociate herself from the prevailing stereotype of the woman poet, that image of the wailing and uncontrollable poetess of the nineteenth century. Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert have pointed out that the woman artist "must confront precursors who are almost exclusively male, and therefore significantly different from her…. On the one hand,… the woman writer's male precursors symbolize authority; on the other hand, despite their authority, they fail to define the ways in which she experiences her identity as a writer." Bogan used what she could from the male tradition but it had its limits for her, as it does for any woman, since the emotional experience that goes into the poem is the experience of a woman.


Bogan, Louise (Vol. 4)