Some of Louise Bogan's Poems
Modern Amierican Poetry: Louise Bogan
Academy of American Poets: Louise Bogan
Louise Bogan (August 11, 1897 - 1970) was an American poet. She was born in Livermore Falls, Maine, and spent one year at Boston University. In 1916 she left the university to marry Curt Alexander, but he died in 1919. After her first husband's death, she moved with her daughter to New York City to pursue a career in writing. In 1925 she married the poet Raymond Holden, but they were divorced in 1937.
Bogan had poetry published in the The New Republic, The Nation, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Scribner's and The Atlantic Monthly. She was the poetry reviewer of The New Yorker from 1931 until 1969, when she retired. She was a strong supporter of the poet Theodore Roethke.
In a letter to Edmund Wilson, she detailed a raucous affair that she and the yet-unpublished Roethke carried on in 1935, during the time between his expulsion from Lafayette College and his return to Michigan. At the time she seemed little impressed by what she called his "very, very small lyrics"; she seems to have viewed the affair as, at most, a possible source for her own work (see What the Woman Lived: Collected letters of Louise Bogan).
Because Bogan refused to discuss herself (and disdained such confessional poets as Robert Lowell and John Berryman), little is known of her personal life. Most of her work was published before 1938. This includes Body of This Death (1923), Dark Summer (1929) and The Sleeping Fury (1937). She also translated works by Ernst Jünger, Goethe, and Jules Renard. A volume of her collected works, The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968, was published late in her life. She died in New York City in 1970. A number of autobiographical pieces were published posthumously in Journey around My Room (1980). Elizabeth Frank's biography of Louise Bogan, "Louise Bogan: A Portrait", won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986.
The Frightened Man
Words for Departure
(listen to Bogan read this poem in 1968)
You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;
To be ceaseless movement,
Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridescence
Upon your body and wings.
You split into the heat.
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consumes you.
You rocket into the day.
But at last, when the wind flattens the grasses,
For you, the design and purpose stop.
And you fall
With the other husks of summer.
The cold remote islands
And the blue estuaries
Where what breathes, breathes
The restless wind of the inlets,
And what drinks, drinks
The incoming tide;
Where shell and weed
Wait upon the salt wash of the sea,
And the clear nights of stars
Swing their lights westward
To set behind the land;
Where the pulse clinging to the rocks
Renews itself forever;
Where, again on cloudless nights,
The water reflects
The firmament’s partial setting;
In your narrowing dark hours
That more things move
Than blood in the heart.
I had come to the house, in a cave of trees,
Facing a sheer sky.
Everything moved, -- a bell hung ready to strike,
Sun and reflection wheeled by.
When the bare eyes were before me
And the hissing hair,
Held up at a window, seen through a door.
The stiff bald eyes, the serpents on the forehead
Formed in the air.
This is a dead scene forever now.
Nothing will ever stir.
The end will never brighten it more than this,
Nor the rain blur.
The water will always fall, and will not fall,
And the tipped bell make no sound.
The grass will always be growing for hay
Deep on the ground.
And I shall stand here like a shadow
Under the great balanced day,
My eyes on the yellow dust, that was lifting in the wind,
And does not drift away.
Women have no wilderness in them,
They are provident instead,
Content in the tight hot cell of their hearts
To eat dusty bread.
They do not see cattle cropping red winter grass,
They do not hear
Snow water going down under culverts
Shallow and clear.
They wait, when they should turn to journeys,
They stiffen, when they should bend.
They use against themselves that benevolence
To which no man is friend.
They cannot think of so many crops to a field
Or of clean wood cleft by an axe.
Their love is an eager meaninglessness
Too tense, or too lax.
They hear in every whisper that speaks to them
A shout and a cry.
As like as not, when they take life over their door-sills
They should let it go by.
The Frightened Man
In fear of the rich mouth
I kissed the thin,--
Even that was a trap
To snare me in.
Even she, so long
The frail, the scentless,
Is become strong,
And proves relentless.
O, forget her praise,
And how I sought her
Through a hazardous maze
By shafted water.
You have put your two hands upon me, and your mouth,
You have said my name as a prayer.
Here where trees are planted by the water
I have watched your eyes, cleansed from regret,
And your lips, closed over all that love cannot say,
My mother remembers the agony of her womb
And long years that seemed to promise more than this.
She says, "You do not love me,
You do not want me,
You will go away."
In the country whereto I go
I shall not see the face of my friend
Nor her hair the color of sunburnt grasses;
Together we shall not find
The land on whose hills bends the new moon
In air traversed of birds.
What have I thought of love?
I have said, "It is beauty and sorrow."
I have thought that it would bring me lost delights, and splendor
As a wind out of old time . . .
But there is only the evening here,
And the sound of willows
Now and again dipping their long oval leaves in the water.
Words for Departure
Nothing was remembered, nothing forgotten.
When we awoke, wagons were passing on the warm summer pavements,
The window-sills were wet from rain in the night,
Birds scattered and settled over chimneypots
As among grotesque trees.
Nothing was accepted, nothing looked beyond.
Slight-voiced bells separated hour from hour,
The afternoon sifted coolness
And people drew together in streets becoming deserted.
There was a moon, and light in a shop-front,
And dusk falling like precipitous water.
Hand clasped hand
Forehead still bowed to forehead--
Nothing was lost, nothing possessed
There was no gift nor denial.
I have remembered you.
You were not the town visited once,
Nor the road falling behind running feet.
You were as awkward as flesh
And lighter than frost or ashes.
You were the rind,
And the white-juiced apple,
The song, and the words waiting for music.
You have learned the beginning;
Go from mine to the other.
Be together; eat, dance, despair,
Sleep, be threatened, endure.
You will know the way of that.
But at the end, be insolent;
Be absurd--strike the thing short off;
Be mad--only do not let talk
Wear the bloom from silence.
And go away without fire or lantern
Let there be some uncertainty about your departure.