Ridgely Torrence Criticism - Essay

May Sinclair (essay date 1906)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Three American Poets of Today,” in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XCVIII, September 1906, pp. 333-5.

[In the following excerpt Sinclair traces the progress of Torrence's poetry, predicts “a brilliant future” for him, and cautions lest “preciosity” undermine his art.]

Nobody who comes fresh from El Dorado and “The Lesser Children” (a poem published in The Atlantic Monthly) can say that Mr. Ridgely Torrence has not achieved, and achieved excellently; but he has not yet found himself and his place in literature. He has as yet put forth little. His first published work, The House of the Hundred Lights (his Rubáiyát), a slender volume of quatrains written in frank imitation of Omar Khayyám, has no note of his originality, but displays a certain aptitude in assimilating style. Each verse has the neatness of an epigram:—

Yes, he that wove the skein of Stars
and poured out all the seas that are
Is Wheel and Spinner and the Flax,
and Boat and Steersman and the Star.
What! doubt the Master Workman's hand
because my fleshly ills increase?
No; for there still remains one chance
that I am not His Masterpiece.
Though man or angel judge my life
and read it like an open scroll,
And weigh my heart, I have a judge
more just than any—my own soul.

Mr. Torrence has definitely essayed the poetic drama. His El Dorado has much in it besides the mere facile exuberance of youth; there is color and vision and the sweep of action. The characters are nobly planned, and there is one fine tragic figure, Perth, the prisoner released after thirty years in a dungeon. He desires to recapture his lost youth, as the adventurer Coronado desires to capture the Seven Cities of Gold. Over the whole drama there is the golden light and rosy mist of youth; it is the drama of youth and of youth's disillusionment. There is a fine scene where Coronado and his host come within sight of the enchanted cities:—

Perth. The veil seems slowly
to withdraw.
Cor.                                                                                  I see it!
A Voice. What?
Cor. (To Perth) Look—far down!
Perth. The mist seems coloured there.
Cor. It glows! It is no mist! Can
you not
The gem which is the mother of all dawn?
Perth. There is some gleam.
Car.                                                    It waits
one moment yet
Before it thunders upon our blinded sight!
(To Soldiers) Choose what you will,
O you
whose blood has bought it!
Out of all that which waits our famished eyes!
Bright, barren sands of gold, which shall be
Jewels that welter like great fallen suns!
The living heat that smoulders in deep rubies,
The endless April of cool emeralds
And chrysoprase within whose heart the sky
Kisses the sea! The sullen mystery
Of opals holding captive sunsets past!
And diamonds fashioned from the frozen souls
Of lilies once alive!

The structure of the verse is sonorous and correct; there is the promise of that gift of phrasing which Mr. Torrence has developed so admirably in “The Lesser Children:”—

“And now, in that far edge, as though a seed
Were sown, there is a hint of budding grey,
A bud not wholly innocent of night
And yet a colour.”

(The entire section is 1391 words.)

Jessie B. Rittenhouse (essay date 1913)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ridgely Torrence,” in The Younger American Poets, Little, Brown, and Company, 1913, pp. 299-314.

[In the following excerpt, Rittenhouse extols Torrence's first book of poetry and his play El Dorado.]

Mr. Ridgely Torrence, whose poetic drama, El Dorado, brought him generous recognition, gave earlier hostages to fame in the shape of a small volume with the caption, The House of a Hundred Lights, and gravely subtitled, “A Psalm of Experience after Reading a Couplet of Bidpai.”

Into this little book were packed some charming whimsicalities, together with some graver thoughts—though not too grave—and some fancies full...

(The entire section is 3287 words.)

The New York Times (essay date 1917)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of “Plays for a Negro Theater,” in The New York Times, Vol. LXVI, No. 21662, April 6, 1917.

[In the following excerpt, the New York Times critic reviews Torrence's Plays for A Negro Theater.]

The doors of that intermittent playhouse, the Garden Theater were thrown wide once more for the first presentation here last evening of three plays by the poet and occasional dramatist, Ridgely Torrence—three plays in which he seeks to interpret the traditions, sorrows, and aspirations of the negro race, striving to speak for it in the theater as Lady Gregory, Mr. Yeats and their fellows sought to speak for the Irish. The significant factor in their...

(The entire section is 877 words.)

Francis Hackett (essay date 1917)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of “Plays for a Negro Theater,” in The New Republic, Vol. X, No. 128, April 14, 1917.

[In the following review, Hackett considers Torrence's Plays for A Negro Theater in the context of the conventional depiction of African-American characters and experiences.]

Not long after Mr. Edward Sheldon began his career he wrote a play called The Nigger, which aggravated and solidified in one production almost everything that an audience of wine agents might require in a melodrama. There was, as I remember it, a rape committed somewhere off stage. There was a lynching in the wings. There was the imminence of a mixed marriage, a drop of Negro blood being discovered in the hero just in time to save the white fiancee. Mobs, I recollect, tumbled around the house where the fated man was communing with his soul, and these grim deliberations ended in his renouncing the governorship to which he had been elected and deciding to devote his life to his own people instead. Such incidents were not selected, as Mr. Thomas Dixon might have selected them, out of a large natural endowment of malignancies. Mr. Sheldon has no animus against the Negro, but, like most Americans, he has remembered his newspapers too well. The things he associated with the Negro were the copy-desk conventional things. To the Negro he would discern for himself he had turned a wall-eye.

The New York Times (essay date 1917)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An interview with Ridgely Torrence, The New York Times, Vol. LXVI, No. 21631, April 15, 1917.

[In the following excerpt, a New York Times reporter interviews Torrence about Three Plays for A Negro Theater.]

Down in Waverley Place, to the northwest of Washington Square, there stands an old dwelling house which has been made over into apartments. And on the very top story of this house there is an apartment rich in literary associations. Here the late William Vaughn Moody lived from 1906 till 1909, and some of Moody's canvases (for the author of “The Great Divide” made painting his chief recreation) hang on the walls. At different times Percy MacKaye,...

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Percy MacKaye (essay date 1917)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A letter regarding the production of Plays for a Negro Theater, in The New York Times, Vol. LXVI, No. 21638, April 22, 1917.

[In the following letter to The New York Times, poet and playwright MacKaye praises the Broadway production of Torrence's Plays for a Negro Theater.]

In Ford's Theater, Washington, fifty-two years ago, at the climax of his life, the emancipator of the American negro sat watching a play. Last night at a theater in this city I seemed to see Lincoln again in the playhouse—his great spirit brooding there, with infinite satisfaction, upon an event as potentially significant in the art life of the race he set free as his act of emancipation was to their political life. That event was the performance by negro players of three plays by Ridgely Torrence.

All three of Torrence's plays are works of abiding poetry, wrought from themes of our own soil by a poet whom we have long known for his ardent lyric qualities, but never till now for his dramatic mastery of human characterization and insight, and the effortless expression of these in a speech for actors always naturally flowing and always redolent of poetry. For sheer, terrific tragedy, the second play, Granny Maumee has no equal among American dramatic works and no counterpart of its kind in any literature.

As it touches the life and problems of the negro in our country, this whole production seemed to me to be of immensely good significance to both colored people and white.

Herbert S. Gorman (essay date 1925)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of “Hesperides,” in The New York Times, Vol. LXXIV, No. 24606, June 7, 1925, p. 7.

[In the following review of Hesperides, Gorman praises Torrence's achievement in poetry with regard to both “meaning and meter.”]

Once in the dear dead days beyond recall (1900, to be exact) a small book appeared under the weighty title of The House of a Hundred Lights: A Psalm of Experience After Reading a Couplet of Bidpai. It was the work of one Frederic Ridgely Torrence. It was his first volume of poetry. And now, after the passage of twenty-five years, Mr. Torrence presents the public with his second volume of poetry, Hesperides. Such a...

(The entire section is 1863 words.)

Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1925)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1925)

SOURCE: A review of “Hesperides,” in The Times Literary Supplement, July 16, 1925.

[In the following excerpt, the reviewer finds a disturbing frenzy in Torrence's verse, but acknowledges he is an authentic poet.]

Mr. Torrence is too anxious to escape being

Ground in an endless mill
With life run dry in winning the foremost place

really to touch the shores of the “Hesperides.” Into that “better place,” as he describes it,

on a golden shore of the sea,
Dim, where the dancers move under apples of gold,
Fruits of a happier earth, on a golden...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Daniel Gregory Mason (essay date 1938)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ridgely Torrence,” in Music in My Time, Greenwood Press, 1938, pp. 140-45.

[In the following excerpt, Mason describes the antic side of Torrence's disposition.]

At our evening gatherings in the Judson the chief entertainer was always Ridgely Torrence. Ridgely was tall, thin, and very blonde. Singularly penetrating eyes gave to the long lean face under his high forehead an effect of spirituality, almost asceticism. Anyone prepared for that side of him by the mystical beauty of his poems might well have been puzzled when, in his more social mood, those very eyes that had just awed you with their seeming penetration into your inmost secrets would unexpectedly...

(The entire section is 1713 words.)

Louis Untermeyer (essay date 1941)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of “Poems,” in Saturday Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 13, July 19, 1941.

[In the following excerpt, Untermeyer reviews Torrence's last book of poems, and puzzles over his slender output.]

The case of Ridgely Torrence is one of the most puzzling in modern poetry. His first volume appeared at the very beginning of the century, and it was immediately evident that Torrence promised more than most of his contemporaries. But twenty-five years passed before his second book, Hesperides, was published. Another sixteen years have brought Poems, which is a reissue of Hesperides with the addition of some new poems. The volume presents a...

(The entire section is 323 words.)

Willard Thorp (essay date 1951)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Achievement of Ridgely Torrence,” in The Princeton University Library Chronicle, Vol. XII, No. 3, Spring, 1951, pp. 103-09.

[In the following essay, Thorp offers a thumbnail sketch of Torrence's life, career, and contribution to American letters. ]

Friends of Princeton and friends of the late Ridgely Torrence '97 (for there are, happily, many who survive him) will welcome the good news that Mrs. Torrence (Olivia Howard Dunbar) plans to give his literary papers to Princeton University. They will add immeasurably to our records of his literary generation. We shall place them on our shelves beside letters and manuscripts of his friends E. A. Robinson and...

(The entire section is 2675 words.)

John M. Clum (essay date 1969)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ridgely Torrence's Negro Plays: A Noble Beginning,” in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. LXVIII, Winter, 1969, pp. 96-108.

[In the following essay, Clum discusses the origins and the production of Torrence's Plays for A Negro Theater,and the critical responses to the three plays.]

Among the significant moments in the history of the American theater, one remains relatively unsung. Its success at the box office was not great, its place in the memory of this generation of theatergoers virtually non-existent, but Ridgely Torrence's Three Plays for the Negro Theatre made a place for the Negro in our serious dramatic literature. Although...

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George Monteiro (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘I always Keep Seeing a Light as I Talk to Him,’: Limning the Robert Frost/Ridgely Torrence Relationship,” in The South Carolina Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, Fall, 1982, pp. 32-43.

[In the following essay, Monteiro traces the influence of Torrence's poetry on Robert Frost.]

“The time draws near for going to press and I must get as many editors as possible implicated in the book beforehand. Ain't I wiley?” So wrote Robert Frost on 15 October 1935 to Louis Untermeyer, a friend and fellow-poet, who also happened to be a reviewer, an editor, and an influential anthologist.1 Vintage Frost, this statement emanates from his most mischievous,...

(The entire section is 4353 words.)