Marya Zaturenska

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Zaturenska, Marya 1902–

Zaturenska is a Russian-born American lyric poet. She won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for Cold Morning Sky. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)

Babette Deutsch

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An almost palpable darkness hovers over many of the lyrics of Marya Zaturenska, which move from the innocent fairyland of a romanticized child's world toward a place peopled by haunted men and women, and their fearful, august companions, demons, angels, sibyls, gods. Her lyricism lacks the austere quality of Louise Bogan's. That she has read the metaphysicals with a fond attentiveness, the epigraphs and the names of her poems bear witness, as does the tone of those religious lyrics which have the quality of pastels. But her dream-charged imagery, twined with roses and with serpents, belongs to another country of the mind. She may briefly recall to us the forgotten beauties in the old book of nature, bid us "Remember Paradise and its perfect climate," more often she will suggest "the Gothic terror". Her poetry has an old-fangled quality, even as she acknowledges the risk we run when we listen to the voice of the past, or glances at the fact that "disaster lies in wait/For the heart and for the state." (p. 267)

Babette Deutsch, in her Poetry in Our Time (copyright © 1963 by Babette Deutsch; 1963 by Doubleday; reprinted by permission of Babette Deutsch), revised edition, Doubleday, 1963.

Robert Phillips

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It was T. S. Eliot who asserted, "The most individual parts of the poet's work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously." In other words, a healthy tradition is capable of modifying itself continuously in the guts of the living, giving rise to fresh statements and new implications.

This surely is true of the work of Marya Zaturenska, whose new book [The Hidden Waterfall] is firmly rooted in the many conventions of lyric poetry, but which startles with its freshness. In her choice of matter as well as of mode, Miss Zaturenska is a true lyric poet—that is, pertaining to the lyre and relating to madrigals, airs, and sonnets (i.e., "little songs"). It is appropriate that one poem in this, her eighth collection, concludes with the lines, "Renewed are the sea's advances./Resume, resume, the old dances,/And the song with the old refrain,/Renew our life again!" It is a book in which the poet literally sets some of the most serious "old refrains" of traditional poetry dancing new jigs. As such, it is pure Zaturenska. The imagination of Miss Zaturenska has never been lured by the fashionable or the trivial. Instead of the topical, she attempts to write of the timeless. Even her earlier poems involving the Second World War (from The Listening Landscape) were banished when she assembled her Collected Poems eight years ago, as if even that event were but a footnote in the true history of mankind.

Marya Zaturenska has long been one of America's natural sources of power and light; her second collection, Cold Morning Sky, full of magic and mystery, shadow and epiphany, won the Pulitzer Prize when she was a young woman. Even then her work was fully mature. It always gave, for instance, the impression of being directly spoken by the individual poet herself. Her work has never imitated others; her influences are thoroughly assimilated…. Subjective, highly emotional, in even her new adaptations from the Italian, the voice is always that of Marya Zaturenska, not that of some assumed persona.

Because Miss Zaturenska's work is so emotional, and because emotions are rarely sustainable, her poems are relatively brief. The ambitious, extended poem like The...

(This entire section contains 932 words.)

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Waste Land or Paterson is not for her. The longest in the present collection is just over fifty lines. But when her poems do approach greater length, there is about them the same trance-like quality of the brief lyric, as if the whole were one spontaneous flash of inspiration, springing full-panoplied from the poet's head and armed with its own internal music and inevitable form.

Moreover, since she writes within the tradition of deeply-felt, deep-imagined poetry, it is natural that most of her poems deal with the universal concerns—love, sorrow, religion, death. But if her subject matter seems restricted, her responses to it are not. The Hidden Waterfall displays an impressively broad play of the imagination as well as a highly individual, but controlled, use of rhythm and sound. It is in these matters, her personal idiom, that she is distinguished (in both senses) from the handful of other known American lyricists of the century—Teasdale and Millay, Leònie Adams and Bogan, as well as Roethke.

Another trait of her idiom is an ability to surprise in the region of rhyme. She pairs and slant-rhymes sky/endlessly, unspeakable/impossible, it/forget, age/heritage. The result is music of a subtle sort. Like Robert Frost's, her verses rhyme but do not jangle.

Miss Zaturenska rarely takes traditional material without hammering it into a shape all her own. In one of the finest of these new poems, "Cordelia's Song," the familiar figure of Lear on the heath becomes, in her version, "the lost man in the rain"—a more diminished vision, but a very human one…. Miss Zaturenska's is nearly a post-mythic world—informed by legend, but imagined beyond it. Hers is a universe in which the golden apples already have fallen, the azure-breasted birds already have flown.

Lastly, The Hidden Waterfall is so original because of the poet's personal passions which supply subjects and allusions exclusively hers. (pp. 98-9)

The collection divides into four sections, but it is in the first, "A Shakespearian Cycle," that Miss Zaturenska has written her finest and most original work since her Collected Poems. With a song each for Prospero, Perdita, Cordelia, Marina, Ophelia, and Miranda, she recreates six individual and difficult psychescapes. (p. 99)

Depending upon such intensity, and writing within such restrictions, the poet of course runs risks. In a small number of these new poems, Miss Zaturenska cannot sustain the pitch. Sentiment shifts into sentimentality, as in "Another Snowstorm," a poem about old age and the approach of death. Other faults of the volume might be her persistence in archaic inversions and a tendency to overuse certain images. There are, for instance, a few too many islands in the book's mainstream (perhaps these are personal symbols of isolation and of solitude, or—in Jungian terms—symbols of the refuge from the menacing assault of the "sea" of the unconscious).

But these are small faults in a generous gathering. Confronted by the book's music and truth, one is tempted to say of Marya Zaturenska what she herself has said of Christina Rossetti: "Your quiet gifts rang purest gold,/Rang finest silver, and were loved, were heard." In an age of cacophony, it is rare pleasure to encounter a poet so dedicated to song. (p. 100)

Robert Phillips, "A True Lyric Poet," in The Ontario Review (copyright © 1975 by The Ontario Review), Spring-Summer, 1975, pp. 98-100.


Zaturenska, Marya (Vol. 6)