Nelson, Howard. Robert Bly: An Introduction to the Poetry.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. Peseroff, Joyce, ed. Robert Bly: When Sleepers Awake. Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. Quinn, Francis. "Robert Bly: The Art of Poetry LXXIX."
Paris Review 154 (spring 2000): 36-75.
BOGAN, LOUISE (1897-1970) Recognized as one of the finest lyric poets in the United States—in addition to being a well-respected poetry critic— Louise Bogan produced finely wrought, intellectual, and highly formal verse that places her in the tradition of the 17th-century English Metaphysical poets. Yet even as her form and technique were often traditional, the precise language and concentrated effect of her lyric poetry ranks her alongside her more modernist contemporaries and friends as among the best in 20th-century American verse (see modernism).
Born in Livermore Falls, Maine, Bogan was the second surviving child of Daniel Bogan, a white-collar worker in various paper mills, and Mary Helen Shields. Her childhood was painful. The family moved frequently, and her mother was emotionally unstable. Bogan spent a year at Boston University before marrying Curt Alexander, a German immigrant in the U.S. Army, in 1916. After giving birth to Mathilde (Maidie) in October 1917, Bogan separated from Alexander permanently in 1919, sent Maidie to live with her parents, moved into an apartment in New York City, and determined to make herself into an important woman of letters. By 1921 she was publishing in most of the prestigious journals of the day. She won the first of three Guggenheim Fellowships in 1922 (also in 1933 and 1937), and in 1931 she published her first review for the New Yorker, for which she would continue to write regularly until 1969. Bogan won Poetry magazine's John Reed Memorial Prize in 1930 and the Helen Haire Levinson Memorial Prize in 1937. she held a Library of Congress Fellowship in American Letters in 1944, was consultant in poetry (now poet laureate) to the Library of Congress from 1945-47, and won the Harriet Monroe Award in 1948. She was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1951, the Academy of American Poets in 1955, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1969, and she shared the Bollingen Prize with Léone Adams in 1955. she published three books of criticism and held several visiting professorships.
Bogan's stylized verses eschew simplistic biographical interpretation. Her first book, Body of This Death (1923), abstractly addresses the themes of betrayal and impermanence beneath an objective tone and a precise attention to form and rhyme. She abhorred confessional poetry. According to biographer Elizabeth Frank, the first poem in Body of This Death, "A Tale," exemplifies Bogan's search for "a life lived passionately" and "an understanding" of such a life (56). The male speaker in the poem finds, at its end, that nothing endures except in the frozen confrontation where "something dreadful and another / Look quietly upon each other." A similar confrontation is extended in "Medusa," from the same volume, which her friend Theodore roethke called a "breakthrough to great poetry" (qtd. in Frank 58), while others saw in it an effort to control her depression. Resolving deep emotional response with intellectual nihilism marks much of Bogan's work. Similarly "The Alchemist" (1923), another of her most popular poems, asserts: "I burned my life, that I might find / A passion wholly of the mind."
The darkness noted in her second volume, Dark Summer (1929), appears most often as the unconscious, where passion and emotion lurk behind observation and tightly controlled form. In "If We Take All Gold," psychic peace is apparently won at the cost of burying "treasure" "under dark heaped ground." "Simple Autumnal," considered one the finest American lyric poems, attends to controlling the "forbidden grief" that dominated Bogan's life as an artist and as a human being, while "Summer Wish," assessed by
Frank as "her one great poem in a major style and major mode" (125), addresses emotional despair.
After divorcing her second husband and traveling in Europe, Bogan returned to writing about the themes that dominated her earlier work—grief, rage, and impermanence—in what some consider her finest volume, The Sleeping Fury (1937). Works like "Italian Morning," "Roman Fountain," "Henceforth from the Mind," and the title poem are cited by critics for their mastery of craftsmanship and maturity of sentiment. "Henceforth from the Mind" reflects Bogan's continued struggle to distance herself intellectually from raging emotions: "Henceforth from the mind, / For your whole joy, must spring." The title poem, "The Sleeping Fury," confronts depression, personified as a sleeping child: "You lie in sleep and forget me. / Alone and strong in my peace, I look upon you in yours."
Bogan's "The Dream," first appearing in Collected Poems, 1923-1953 (1954), marks an outstanding achievement of intensity of emotional impact presented in timeless, traditional lyric form. By the time The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968 (1969)—which added only 12 new poems—was released, Bogan's critics were used to reviewing her entire canon as an expression of her pursuit of lyric control and excellence. The 104 poems that comprise her final selected volume are a testament to Bogan's commitment to using traditional metrics to achieve concentrated language and effect.
Was this article helpful?