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The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Fifth Edition
Paul Lauter, General Editor

Louise Bogan

Born in Livermore, Maine, Bogan attended private school in New Hampshire and, after her family moved to Boston, the Girls’ Latin School, graduating in 1915. Later, she remembered her five years at the school—renowned for its rigorous classical curriculum—as stimulating and happy. By age fifteen she considered herself a writer. However, having completed one year at Boston University, she married an army officer and accompanied him to Panama, where they had a daughter. After his death in 1920, Bogan lived in New York, supporting herself with jobs in a bookstore and at the public library. During these difficult, but exciting years, she frequented literary gatherings in Greenwich Village and met writers associated with Alfred Kreymborg and his magazine, Others, among them William Carlos Williams, Lola Ridge, and Conrad Aiken. She also developed a lasting friendship with the writer-critic Edmund Wilson. By 1922, her verse had appeared in such leading journals as Poetry, Vanity Fair, and The New Republic. Early recognition led in 1923 to her first book, Body of This Death.

From 1925 to 1937 Bogan was married to Raymond Holden, a poet and for several years managing editor of The New Yorker. In 1931 she became poetry reviewer for the magazine, a position she held for thirty-eight years. Her essays and reviews are collected in two volumes of criticism. From 1933 when she was awarded the first of two Guggenheim Fellowships for creative writing, she spent periods of time in Europe.

The detachment typical of Bogan’s verse is absent in “Women” (1922). In an accusing tone, the speaker berates women for reducing their talent and imagination to attain a life-denying contentment, perpetuating their own meager conditions. Although the speaker implies male standards against which to judge women’s actions, the point is, surely, that women should have “wilderness in them,” should journey with courage, and both think and imagine beyond narrowly defined limits. When the poem appeared, Bogan herself was not one of the “provident,” cautious women she describes.

Two poems from the 1930s reveal the influence of Yeats and Rilke as well as the range of Bogan’s poetic skill. In lines alive with alliteration, “Roman Fountain” echoes the startling rise and fall of the fountain, shaped by the bronze spout to achieve its zenith just a moment before falling. Like the fountain’s maker, the poet crafts her materials in dramatic, intricate patterns to capture the image. In contrast to this response to outer reality, “The Sleeping Fury” details the speaker’s conflict with an inner self, both sister and avenger of “the kissed-out lie.” Driven by this punishing force, she must finally acknowledge her mask and its false love. In place of the flame-enshrouded demon, she discovers upon relinquishing her passion a childlike figure of dreamless sleep that mirrors her hard-won peace. In long, fluid lines Bogan conveys deep personal anguish without revealing its factual source.

A late poem, “The Dragonfly,” exemplifies Bogan’s rare experiment with short free verse lines, capturing through vivid imagery the insect’s appearance and movement. Like Moore’s animals, Bogan’s dragonfly embodies certain human characteristics: the “Unending hunger / Grappling love” that cause the beautiful predator to “rocket into the day,” only to lose “design and purpose” as the season runs its course. In its faultless diction and elegant simplicity, Bogan’s finest verse possesses lyric power of a high order.

Theodora Rapp Graham
Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg

In the Heath Anthology
Women (1922)
After the Persian (1937)
Roman Fountain (1937)
The Sleeping Fury (1937)
Night (1963)
The Dragonfly (1963)

Other Works
Body of This Death (1923)
Dark Summer (1929)
Poems and New Poems (1941)
Achievement in American Poetry, 1900-1950 (1951)
Collected Poems 1923-1953 (1954)
Selected Criticism: Poetry and Prose (1955)
The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968 (1968)

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Academy of American Poets
Exhibit on Bogan, including a bio, an audio file of her poem The Dragonfly and a bibliography.

Louise Bogan Biography
Includes a biography, selected essays, selected poems, and links to Bogan resources.

Secondary Sources

Gloria Bowles, Louise Bogan's Aesthetic Limitation, 1987

Christine Colasurdo, "The Dramatic Ambivalence of Self in the Poetry of Louise Bogan," Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Fall 1994

Martha Collins, ed., Critical Essays on Louise Bogan, 1984

Jane Couchman, Louise Bogan: A Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Materials, 1915-1975, Part I and II in Bulletin of Bibliography, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Feb.-Mar. 1976), 73-7, 104, and 3 (Apr.-June 1976), 111-26, 147

Elizabeth Frank, Louise Bogan, 1985

William Kerrigan, "Louise Bogan: Marvell of Her Day," Raritan, Fall 1998

Clair Knox, Louise Bogan: A Reference Source, 1990

Ruth Limmer, Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Louise Bogan, A Mosaic, 1980

Jacqueline Ridgeway, Louise Bogan, 1984

William Jay Smith, Louise Bogan: A Woman's Words, 1971