(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Part 1 of “Poem out of Childhood” opens with Rukeyser’s famous declaration “Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry” and continues with images of high-school students being affected by the outside world: a girl whose father and brother have just died, for example, and the image of the “mouldered face” of a “syphilitic woman” that intrudes upon a school orchestra’s playing. The poet is hit with image after image that, like bandages, wrap her head: “when I put my hand up I hardly feel the wounds.”

The poet continues, protesting against those “who manipulated and misused our youth,/ smearing those centuries upon our hands,” by focusing the students’ attention on the past and ignoring present-day horrors. Part 1 ends with the proclamation, “Rebellion pioneered among our lives,/ viewing from far-off many-branching deltas,/ innumerable seas.”

During part 2 of “Poem out of Childhood,” Rukeyser is still thinking about world events: “Prinzip’s year bore us : see us turning at breast/ quietly while the air throbs over Sarajevo/ after the mechanic laugh of that bullet.” The reference is to Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian student whose assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, triggered World War I. The aftermath of the assassination is the throbbing pain accompanying the birth of Rukeyser’s modern world, and the children born into that world are shown as innocent and...

(The entire section is 427 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Ciardi, John. Mid-Century American Poets. New York: Twayne, 1950.

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.

Kertesz, Louise. The Poetic Vision of Muriel Rukeyser. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980.

Moss, Howard. The Poet’s Story. New York: Macmillan, 1973.