/ Michigan quarterly review: Vol. 6, No. 4
THE POETRY OF LOUISE BOGAN 251 or in "Winter Swan": It is a hollow garden, under the cloud; Beneath the heel a hollow earth is turned; Within the mind, the live blood shouts aloud, Under the breast the willing blood is burned, Shut with the fire passed and the fire returned. Louise Bogan rarely, if ever, repeats a cadence, and this in an age when some poets achieve a considerable reputation with two or three or even one rhythm. The reason for this is, I believe, her absolute loyalty to the particular emotion, which can range from the wry tenderness and humor of "A Crossed Apple" to the vehemence of "Several Voices Out of a Cloud": Come, drunks and drug-takers; come, perverts unnerved! Receive the laurel, given though late, on merit; to whom and wherever deserved. Parochial punks, trimmers, nice people, joiners true-blue, Get the hell out of the way of the laurel. It is deathless And it isn't for you This, for me, incorporates the truly savage indignation of Swift-and still manages to be really funny. And even in a poem on a "high" theme, "I saw Eternity," she can say: Here, mice, rats, Porcupines and toads, Moles, shrews, squirrels, Weasels, turtles, lizards,Here's bright Everlasting! Here's a crumb of Forever! Here's a crumb of Forever! I HAVE said that Miss Bogan has a sharp sense of objects, the eye that can pluck out from the welter of experience the inevitable image. And she loves the words, the nouns particularly, rich in human association. "Baroque Comment" ends: Crown and vesture; palm and laurel chosen as noble and enduring; Speech proud in sound; death considered sacrifice; Mask, weapon, urn; the ordered strings; Fountains; foreheads under weather-bleached hair; The wreath, the oar, the tool, The prow; The turned eyes and the opened mouth of love. But let us see how this side of her talent operates when she is absolutely open, as in the deeply moving elegy "To My Brother": O you so long dead, You masked and obscure, I can tell you, all things endure: The wine and the bread; The marble quarried for the arch; The iron become steel; The spoke broken from the wheel; The sweat of the long march; The hay-stacks cut through like loaves And the hundred flowers from the seed; All things indeed Though struck by the hooves Of disaster, of time due, Of fell loss and gain, All things remain, I can tell you, this is true. Though burned down to stone Though lost from the eye, I can tell you, and not lie,Save of peace alone. The imagery in some of the last poems is less specific, yet still strongly elemental; we have, I think, what Johnson called the grandeur of generality. They are timeless, impersonal in a curious way and objective-not highly idiosyncratic as so much of the best American work is. Her poems can be read and reread: they keep yielding new meanings, as all good poetry should. The ground beat of the great tradition can be heard, with the necessary subtle variations. Bogan is one of the true inheritors. Her poems create their own reality, and demand not just attention, but the emotional and spiritual response of the whole man. Such a poet will never be popular, but can and should be a true model for the young. And the best work will stay in the language as long as the language survives.
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