Adelaide Crapsey


Adelaide Crapsey was, over a term of many years, an eager student of the technical aspects of English poetry. She died on October eighth 1914, after having completed two-thirds of her Analysis of English Metrics—an exhaustive scientific thesis relating to accent—which, years before, she had planned to accomplish as her serious life work. Though her mind was intensely preoccupied with the technical and analytical aspects of prosody, still the creative, artistic side of her nature was so spontaneously alive, that she accomplished a very considerable volume of original poetry—almost as a by-product of her study in metrics.

In the gay and somewhat insouciant period of her early days, she could write finished verse with the ease and readiness that the majority of people reserve only for the most commonplace of prose. I have actually known her to produce the book of an acceptable operetta over the week-end! That early work is gone. It lives only in the memory of those who happened to be near her at the time.Page  [10]She tossed it off as the fleeting expression of a moment, and took no slightest care to preserve it. But several of those early poems stick persistently in my mind over the years, and though I have no copy and cannot quote them accurately, I still believe them worthy of a permanent form. That delightful quality of camaraderie, her quick, bubbling humor she retained to the end in conversation; the sadder, sombre questioning of her inner life attained expression only in the poetry she has left.

These poems, of a gossamer delicacy and finish, are the stronger for the technical knowledge behind them. Likewise, her technical work possessed the more vigor because it was not the result of mere teoretical analysis, but also of the first-hand knowledge gained through her own creative achievement. In each field she spoke with the authority that experience in the other gave. Her studies in prosody were too technical for comprehension by the lay reader. It is through her creative work that she will be remembered, though she herself considered this the slightest part of her accomplishment.

As her study in metrics was astoundingly objective and coldly unreflective of any emotional mood, so her own poems were at the other extreme, astoundingly subjective and descriptive of a mental state that found expression in no otherPage  [11]form. They are heart-breakingly sombre; but they are true.

Adelaide Crapsey, by nature as vivid and joyous and alive a spirit as ever loved the beauty of life, like Keats and Stevenson, worked doggedly for many years against the numbing weight of a creeping pitiless disease. In her last year, spent in exile at Saranac lake, forbidden the strength-sapping work that her metrical study entailed, she was forced to lie and look into space—and these poems grew. Her window looked down upon the Saranac graveyard, "Trudeau's garden," she gaily called it; but its meaning struck home. "To the Dead in the Graveyard Underneath my Window," was among the papers she left behind.

The verse form which she calls "Cinquain" she originated herself. It is an example of extremest compression. She reduces an idea to its very lowest terms—and presents it in a single sharp impression.

In spite of the fact that many of these poems were left only in their first rough draft, they are marvelously perfect. A fastidious distinction marks all of her work—all of her life—it was the most characteristic feature of a very rare nature.


Vassar MiscellanyMarch1915