Body of This Death, 1923
Dark Summer, 1929
The Sleeping Fury, 1937
Poems and New Poems, 1941
Collected Poems 1923-1953, 1954
The Blue Estuaries: Poems 1923-1968, 1968, 1977
Achievement in American Poetry, 1951
Selected Criticism: Prose, Poetry, 1955
A Poet’s Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art and Vocation, 1970
What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan, 1920-1970, 1973
Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Louise Bogan, 1980
The Glass Bees, 1960 (of Ernest Jünger; with Elizabeth Mayer)
Elective Affinities, 1963 (of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; with Mayer)
Journal, 1964 (of Jules Renard; with Elizabeth Roget)
The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1971 (of Goethe)
Novella, 1971 (of Goethe)
The Golden Journey: Poems for Young People, 1965 (compiled with William Jay Smith)
Louise Bogan, one of the last of the important formalist poets writing in the United States in the twentieth century, was also a literary critic and translator. Although she earned great honor and respect from other poets, many of whom credit her influence for their own success, her work never reached a wide popular audience during her lifetime; the body of her work is small, and her poems are complex and difficult.
She attended private schools in and around Boston and began writing poetry when she was about fourteen years old. She published her first poems in 1915 in the Boston University Beacon. She stayed in college for only one year before marrying and traveling to the Panama Canal Zone with her military husband. There she had a daughter, her only child, but she and her husband soon separated. She continued to write, and in 1922 went to Vienna on a Guggenheim Fellowship.
By this time she had written and published a large number of poems and was well-known to readers of literary journals. Her first book of poetry, Body of This Death, appeared in 1923. Many of the twenty-seven poems hinge on a central pair of opposites: heart and mind, striving and meaninglessness, social order and selfhood, admiration and resentment. Sixteen of the poems deal with the difficulties of love from a woman’s perspective. Bogan had come to believe that men and women were by nature incapable of forging true relationships. The tone of these works is satiric, even bitter.
Some found many of the poems hard to understand, the vocabulary difficult, the symbolism obscure. However, many poets admired the work because of its clear and honest passion and the importance of the subject matter and narrative voice as well as for Bogan’s deft handling of complex meter and rhyme. She frequently wrote in lyrical stanzas, with the first and third lines and the second and fourth lines rhyming, and made allusions to earlier great works of poetry. By drawing on a rich body of classical forms and allusions, she placed her poetry in a historical continuum and forged connections with the voices that preceded hers.
Bogan believed that “poetry–high, formal poetry–has always been obscure.” For her, form was an important tool for the writer trying to express the inexpressible. Her Roman Catholic background and her domineering mother had helped instill in her a need for form and structure. With the appearance of her second collection, Dark Summer, which was widely reviewed, Bogan became proclaimed one of the most important woman poets of her generation. Her use of form and symbolism, and such essays as the famous “The Pleasures of Formal Poetry” (1953), strongly influenced the work of Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, Adrienne Rich, and many others.
In the 1930’s Bogan began to publish stories and reviews in The New Yorker and other magazines, and she produced her third book of poetry, The Sleeping Fury. Episodes of depression incapacitated her for long periods, and at times she questioned whether the emotional toll for writing poetry was not too great. She turned more and more to reviews and criticism, and though she published three more books of poetry over the next thirty years, they all contained old material as well as new.
Bogan’s criticism was reflective and personal. For a time she served as the chairwoman of poetry at the Library of Congress, she was frequently a visiting lecturer at universities in the United States and Europe, and she was honored by the Academy of American Poets for her distinguished contribution to American poetry. In 1969, shortly before her death, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Toward the end of her life she wrote ever less poetry, but she continued to write stories for The New Yorker, edited an anthology of poems for young readers, and prepared translations of German literature. After her death in 1970 her work began to attract a new audience of feminist readers, who welcomed the posthumous publication of her autobiography and a collection of published and unpublished work that included journal entries.