Born in Maine, Louise Bogan (1897 -1970; imagine having lived those years) was admired by W.H. Auden and served as poetry editor of The New Yorker for decades. In her exquisite poems, intellect rules over emotion, and “beauty is wrested from dark places” as Auden put it. Here are my favorites.
This youth too long has heard the break
Of waters in a land of change.
He goes to see what suns can make
From soil more indurate and strange.
He cuts what holds his days together
And shuts him in, as lock on lock:
The arrowed vane announcing weather,
The tripping racket of a clock;
Seeking, I think, a light that waits
Still as a lamp upon a shelf, —
A land with hills like rocky gates
Where no sea leaps upon itself.
But he will find that nothing dares
To be enduring, save where, south
Of hidden deserts, torn fire glares
On beauty with a rusted mouth, —
Where something dreadful and another
Look quietly upon each other.
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.
Now that I know
How passion warms little
Of flesh in the mould,
And treasure is brittle,–
I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.
As you lay in sleep
I saw the chart
Of artery and vein
Running from your heart,
Plain as the strength
Marked upon the leaf
Along the length,
Mortal and brief,
Of your gaunt hand.
I saw it clear:
The wiry brand
Of the life we bear
Mapped like the great
Rivers that rise
Beyond our fate
And distant from our eyes.
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.