Searching for the Ox

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

Searching for the Ox, Louis Simpson’s latest collection of poetry, is a quiet, reflective, and introspective work. Divided into four sections, its divisions roughly equate the growth and development of Simpson as man and writer. The first two sections, “Venus in the Tropics” and “The Company of Flesh and Blood,” concern the life of a boy and young man. Simpson, in his preface to this collection, suggests that the poems in these two sections are largely autobiographical. The poems in the third section, “Searching for the Ox,” are directed at what Simpson calls “a way of life.” They focus on the development of thoughts and ideas, of creativity and meditation. In the metaphor of the growth of man and writer, this section is the emergence from adolescence of the man as writer, and the emergence of thought from feeling and passion.

The final section of this collection is entitled “Further Adventures of the Letter I,” the title of which is a continuation of the title of Simpson’s previous poetry collection, Adventures of the Letter I. It is directed towards the ideas, thoughts, and experiences that grew out of Simpson’s life as a writer. If the first three sections represented adolescence and the emergence of adulthood, perhaps this final section represents that quiet period of life when one may reflect on one’s life and life work.

The author of numerous works, Simpson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of poetry, At the End of the Open Road. In addition to this collection, he has written five others, this present collection being the seventh in the complete line of his poetry. The other collections are The Arrivestes: Poems 1940-1949, Good News of Death and Other Poems, A Dream of Governors, Selected Poems, and Adventures of the Letter I. Although his greatest recognition is for his poetry, Simpson is also a prose writer of considerable distinction. He has published five other works: James Hogg: A Critical Study; Riverside Drive, An Introduction to Poetry; North of Jamaica; and his critically acclaimed work, Three on the Tower: The Lives and Works of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.

Pursuing the idea that the collection is divided into four sections, each representing a stage in the development of man and writer, the placement of the title poem as the last poem in the third section becomes particularly significant. If the final section does, indeed, represent the stage in life when one may reflect on youth and early adulthood, then the poem “Searching for the Ox” becomes a bridge between the development of ideas and creativity and the reflection on them.

The poem, divided into five sections, opens with a description of a young girl suffering from schizophrenia in a mental hospital where a friend of the speaker works. It continues from this point to a conclusion of the first section with the image of a balloon being driven by its leaking air from one side of a swimming pool to the other, unable to escape its confining boundaries. The second section concerns science and technology and uses as its symbol the launching of the first manned mission to the moon. The...

(The entire section is 1320 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 19)

America. CXXXV, October 2, 1976, p. 215.

American Poetry Review. V, July, 1976, p. 42.

Booklist. XXXVI, July, 1976, p. 130.

Library Journal. CI, October 1, 1976, p. 2069.

New York Times Book Review. May 9, 1976, p. 4.