Saturday, August 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Louise Bogan

Happy Birthday to poet Louise Bogan, born on August 11, 1897, in Livermore Falls, Maine. Bogan attended Boston Latin School and spent a year at Boston University before marrying and having a child. The marriage was an unhappy one and in 1920, after her husband died, she turned to poetry, making her way in the literary community of New York. Her second husband was the poet Raymond Holden, from whom she divorced in 1937. During her life time, Bogan was better known as a critic than as a poet, and she worked for many years as the poetry critic of the New Yorker. She was Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress in 1945 and 1946 (the position now known as "Poet Laureate of the United States") and in 1955, she shared the Bollingen Prize for Poetry with Leonie Adams.

Bogan's first collection of poetry was Body of this Death (1923). Others include Dark Summer (1929) and The Sleeping Fury (1937). Her final and most complete collection, The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995), originally published in 1968, is still widely available, due, perhaps, to renewed interest in Bogan's work among feminists and a growing assessment of her importance as a poet and critic in Twentieth Century American literature. In an essay available on the web for Modern American Poetry, Wendy Hirsch wrote: "[Bogan's] work is particularly important in light of her place in the company of other modernists. In a time of experimentation, of a general loosening of structures and subjects, she held the line for formal poetry and for the precise blend of emotion and intellect to enliven that poetry."

Bogan struggled with depression throughout her adult life. She died in New York on February 4, 1970.

Here is her poem Evening in a Sanitarium, which was originally published with the subtitle, "Imitated from Auden," although later versions of the poem dropped the reference.


The free evening fades, outside the windows fastened
with decorative iron grilles.
The lamps are lighted; the shades drawn; the nurses
are watching a little.
It is the hour of the complicated knitting on the safe
bone needles; of the games of anagrams and bridge;
The deadly game of chess; the book held up like a mask.

The period of the wildest weeping, the fiercest delusion, is over.
The women rest their tired half-healed hearts; they are
almost well.

Some of them will stay almost well always: the blunt-faced
woman whose thinking dissolved
Under academic discipline; the manic-depressive girl
Now leveling off; one paranoiac afflicted with jealousy,
Another with persecution. Some alleviation has been

O fortunate bride, who never again will become elated
after childbirth!
O lucky older wife, who has been cured of feeling
To the suburban railway station you will return, return,
To meet forever Jim home on the 5:35.
You will be again as normal and selfish and heartless
as anybody else.

There is life left: the piano says it with its octave smile.
The soft carpets pad the thump and splinter of the suicide
to be.
Everything will be splendid: the grandmother will not
drink habitually.
The fruit salad will bloom on the plate like a bouquet
And the garden produce the blue-ribbon aquilegia.
The cats will be glad; the fathers feel justified; the
mothers relieved.
The sons and husbands will no longer need to pay the bills.
Childhoods will be put away, the obscene nightmare abated.

At the ends of the corridors the baths are running.
Mrs. C. again feels the shadow of the obsessive idea.
Miss R. looks at the mantel-piece, which must mean something.


NOTE: In my copy of the original poem, the short "carry over" lines are indented several spaces. Unfortunately, I cannot duplicate this effect in Blogger. My apologies.


Blogger jenni said...

One of my favorite poets. Thank you for this post!

3:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home