Nathan, Leonard (Edward)

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NATHAN, Leonard (Edward)

Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 8 November 1924. Education: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, 1943; University of California, Los Angeles, 1946–47; University of California, Berkeley, B.A. (summa cum laude) 1950, M.A. 1952, Ph.D. in English 1961. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1943–45. Family: Married Carol Nash in 1949; one son and two daughters. Career: Instructor, Modesto Junior College, California, 1954–60; since 1960 member of the department of rhetoric, chair of the department, 1968–72, professor of rhetoric until 1992, and since 1992, professor emeritus, University of California, Berkeley. Awards: Phelan award, 1955; Longview award, 1961; American Institute of Indian Studies fellowship, 1966; American Academy award, 1971; University of California Creative Awards fellowship, 1973; Guggenheim fellowship, 1976; University of California humanities research fellowship, 1983. Address: 40 Beverly Road, Kensington, California 94707–1304, U.S.A.



Western Reaches. San Jose, California, Talisman Press, 1958.

The Glad and Sorry Seasons. New York, Random House, 1963.

The Matchmaker's Lament and Other Astonishments. Northampton, Massachusetts, Gehenna Press, 1967.

The Day the Perfect Speakers Left. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1969.

Flight Plan. Berkeley, California, Cedar Hill Press, 1971.

Without Wishing. Berkeley, California, Thorp Springs Press, 1973.

Coup and Other Poems. Lincoln, Nebraska, Windflower Press, 1975.

Returning Your Call. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1975.

The Likeness: Poems Out of India. Berkeley, California, Thorp Springs Press, 1975.

The Teachings of Grandfather Fox. Ithaca, New York, Ithaca House, 1976.

Lost Distance. Madison, Wisconsin, Chowder, 1978.

Dear Blood. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.

Holding Patterns. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

Carrying On: New and Selected Poems. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

The Potato Eaters. N.p., Orchises Press, 1999.

Recording: Confessions of a Matchmaker, 1973.


The Tragic Drama of William Butler Yeats: Figures in Dance. New York, Columbia University Press, 1965.

The Poet's Work: An Introduction to Czeslaw Milosz, with Arthur Quinn. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1991.

Diary of a Left-Handed Bird Watcher. St. Paul, Minnesota, Graywolf Press, 1996.

Editor, Talisman Anthology. Georgetown, California, Talisman Press, 1963.

Translator, with others, Modern Hindi Poetry. Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1965.

Translator, First Person, Second Person, by Ageyeya. Berkeley, California, Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies, 1971.

Translator, The Transport of Love: The Meghaduta of Kalidasa. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1976.

Translator, Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess, by Ramprasad Sen. Boulder, Colorado, Great Eastern, 1982.

Translator, with James Larson, Songs of Something Else: Selected Poems, by Gunnar Ekelöf. Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1982.

Translator, with others, The Indian Poetic Tradition: Select Readings from Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, and Apabhramsa Poetry. Agra, Y.K.,1983.

Translator, with Czeslaw Milosz, Happy as a Dog's Tail, by Anna Swirszczynska. San Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1985.

Translator, with Czeslaw Milosz, With the Skin: The Poems of Aleksander Wat. New York, Ecco Press, 1989.

Translator, with Czeslaw Milosz, Talking to My Body: Poems of Anna Swir. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1996.


Manuscript Collection: Syracuse University Library, New York.

Critical Studies: In Shenandoah (Lexington, Virginia), autumn 1969; Malahat Review (Victoria, British Columbia), October 1969; Quarterly Journal of Speech (New York), winter 1970; Poetry (Chicago), January 1971; Ohio Review (Athens), spring-summer 1976; Advocate (Los Angeles), 16 June 1976; Southern Humanities Review (Auburn, Alabama), fall 1976; Small Press Review (Paradise, California), March 1977; Prairie Schooner (Lincoln, Nebraska), fall 1980; Northwest Review (Eugene, Oregon), no. 3, 1981; New Letters (Kansas City), summer 1981; Hudson Review (New York), fall 1982; Chowder Review (Quincy, Massachusetts), summer 1983; Salmagundi (Saratoga Springs, New York), fall 1983; "To Wake Up Cold in Fact: The Poetry of Leonard Nathan" by Jonathan Holden, in New England Review (Hanover, New Hampshire), 16(4), fall 1994.

Leonard Nathan comments:

Nathan's poetry over the years has moved steadily toward the development of a voice that might give human conversation the form to make it memorable. He returns again and again to certain subjects: the difficult redemption possible in human relations; the pathos and courage of human purpose set adrift in an inhuman universe; and the sudden illumination that can transform experience into a meaning so intense that the only term for it is "supernatural."

*  *  *

In his review of The Glad and Sorry Seasons, John Woods quite rightly observed that Leonard Nathan has a "preference for statements of revelation" and that his demands on metaphor are relatively minor. Nathan convinces by conclusive statement, seldom by narrative or emotional persuasion. Although he inclines toward declarative and reductionist poetry, his lines are not so concentrated as, say, W.S. Merwin's, and he does not have Merwin's power to startle and amaze through revelation. Nathan employs a steady iambic meter, with frequent variation in end rhymes. His lines seldom fail; they are refined, restrained, and well polished.

The dominant tonality of The Glad and Sorry Seasons is autumnal. The poet is middle-aged and wise, detached and reflective:

I sweeten by the minute, bodying
The spirit of my seed; hear how I sing
Inside my skin—that's blood, that growing sound,
The psalm of mellowing...

The following lines from "First Girl," while perhaps uncharacteristic of Nathan's lyrics, reveal the intensity he is capable of:

As she bent, I woke, and felt a pull like water
And saw above her head a foreign blue,
And nothing was homely, even my heavy body,
And what I had never learned I always knew.

This snow queen, resplendent in frosted radiance, has transformed the poet and "crystallized the wildest flux of nature." But the time of ecstasy is past and "too long ago for second thoughts."

The Day the Perfect Speakers Left seems to bemoan the disintegration of high culture and humanistic values. Several poems strike a pose reminiscent of Ezra Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" in its condemnation of our "botched civilization," our "old bitch gone in the teeth." In Nathan's "The Crisis" a shadowy figure, a Greek or Jew, has come "to see his children's children, how they escaped / His law, his love, his unpronounceable name." The title poem of the volume confirms the notion and may remind one of Arnold's "Dover Beach." The birds have assembled for what the poet fears is a final migration:

And leave-taking was another,
Sadder version of dusk we were attending,
And as though a whole age were going out,
Its head covered, and going out with it
A purpose including stars and stones.

Returning Your Call is less derivative in style and subject than Nathan's earlier books. His voice is more direct, less given to cleverness and wit than previously. There are fine single achievements, such as "Audit" and "Breathing Exercises." In the latter poem the poet cries, in fear and urgency, "For God's sake, keep breathing." There is in this book more sense of tension, near disaster, and struggle against loss. "Breathing Exercises" also tells us that "inside Leonard / Nathan is a little spirit." While hardly confessional, his poetry now seems willing to grapple more intensely with tougher topics. We hear a voice struggling to regain contact with itself and with close friends. There is also a suggestion that Nathan recognizes the cleverness and restraint of his verse: "someday I'm going to speak / in my own voice … you'll have to cover my mouth with your free hand …. " This is precisely what is missing fromNathan's poetry: a strong, direct, and unfettered voice.

In general, the consistently polished flow of Nathan's lines is both remarkable and lamentable; one soon craves roughness in line and subject. It is Nathan's very control of his material that keeps most of his poems, while always of craft, from becoming poems of authority. By his own construct ("Mao for nightmare, Mozart for slippers"), we need to hear more of Nathan's nightmares, less about his slippers.

—John R. Cooley