Muriel Rukeyser Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What experiences of Muriel Rukeyser’s early life help explain her reactions to the political and economic turbulence of the 1930’s?

What unusually mature childhood perceptions are evident in her “Poem Out of Childhood”?

Discuss Rukeyser as a poet of civil liberty.

What pattern can you discern in the imagery of “Searching/Not Searching”?

What structural principles does Rukeyser regularly employ in her longer poems?

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

ph_0111206427-Rukeyser.jpg Muriel Rukeyser. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to her own poetry, Muriel Rukeyser (ROOK-iz-ur) published several volumes of translations (including work by the poets Octavio Paz and Gunnar Ekelöf), three biographies, two volumes of literary criticism, a number of book reviews, a novel, five juvenile books, and a play. She also worked on several documentary film scripts. The translations were exercises in writing during dry spells; the biographies, like her poetic sequence “Lives,” combine her interests in the arts and sciences. The two volumes of literary criticism (along with her uncollected book reviews) are central to understanding her views concerning poetry and life.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

With the publication of Theory of Flight in the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1935, Muriel Rukeyser began a long and productive career as a poet and author. Her work earned for her the first Harriet Monroe Poetry Award (1941), a National Institute of the Arts and Letters Award (1942), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1943), the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine (1947), the Shelley Memorial Award (1977), the Copernicus Award (1977), a grant from the Eric Mathieu King Fund (1996), an honorary D.Litt. from Rutgers, and membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters. She won the Swedish Academy Translation Award (1967) and the Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation Award (1978) for her translations.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ciardi, John. Mid-Century American Poets. New York: Twayne, 1950. Ciardi’s article on Rukeyser is short but comprehensive and offers a short biography and an analysis of her major work. A good overview that illustrates Rukeyser in the context of her contemporaries.

Gardinier, Suzanne. “A World That Will Hold All People: On Muriel Rukeyser.” Kenyon Review 14 (Summer, 1992): 88-105. An in-depth discussion of Rukeyser’s poetry as reflecting her life experiences and her political beliefs. Gardinier states that Rukeyser wrote “the poetry of a believer—in an age of unbelief.” Many quotations from Rukeyser’s early and later poems.

Herzog, Anne F., and Janet E. Kaufman, eds. How Shall We Tell Each Other of the Poet? The Life and Writing of Muriel Rukeyser. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. A collection of tributes and essays regarding Rukeyser by poets and literary scholars. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Kertesz, Louise. The Poetic Vision of Muriel Rukeyser. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980. Kertesz provides the first book-length critical evaluation of Rukeyser’s work. This book is flawed in that much of Kertesz’s analysis is abandoned in favor of an angry defense of Rukeyser’s work against critics who misunderstood it. However, Kertesz puts...

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