Daughter of Daniel Joseph and Mary Shields Bogan; married Curt Alexander, 1916 (died 1920); Raymond Holden, 1925 (divorced 1937); children: one daughter
Louise Bogan was educated at Mount St. Mary's Academy in Manchester, New Hampshire, the Boston Girls' Latin School, and for a year at Boston University. Her first husband, an army officer, died in 1920, shortly after the birth of their daughter, Bogan's only child. Her second husband was a poet and, from 1929 to 1932, managing editor of the New Yorker; the couple was divorced in 1937. For most of Bogan's adult life her home was New York City.
Reluctant to offer details about her personal life, Bogan valued privacy and close friendships. Published letters to Edmund Wilson, Rolfe Humphries, Morton Zabel, Theodore Roethke, May Sarton, and others reveal a warm, witty, spontaneous side of Bogan, not often evident in her poetry. They also refer to recoveries from nervous breakdowns in 1931 and 1933, as well as to the severe difficulties she experienced in the mid-1930s supporting herself by writing.
Besides poetry, Bogan wrote some fiction and collaborated on translations from German and French. Two volumes of her criticism consist mainly of articles and reviews from Nation, Poetry, Scribner's, Atlantic Monthly, and the New Yorker, for which she was a regular reviewer of poetry from March 1931 to December 1968.
While Bogan advocated primarily formal poetry—in Eliot's words, "verse as speech" and "verse as song"—her critical judgment was far from orthodox. She opposed women's attempts to imitate "a man's rougher conduct" in life and art, observing that there were no authentic women Surrealists, since Surrealism's "frequent harsh eroticism, its shock tactics, and its coarse way with language, comes hard to women writers, whose basic creative impulses usually involve tenderness and affection." The younger women poets she praised were, in following Moore, "close but detached observers of the facts of nature," able to "display a woman's talent for dealing intensely and imaginatively with the concrete."
The qualities most frequently cited in Bogan's poetry are those her friend Léonie Adams noted in a 1954 review of Collected Poems: firmness of outline, prosodic accomplishment in traditional metrics, purity of diction and tone, concision of phrase, and concentrated singleness of effect. Allen Tate, Ford Madox Ford, and Roethke compared her lyrics to those of the Elizabethan metaphysical mode. Abjuring free verse and experimental forms, Bogan worked in consciously controlled lyric form with a restraint and precision which contained passionate feeling. "Minor art," she wrote, "needs to be hard, condensed and durable." A few critics of her work have found that control scrupulous to the point of limitation and perhaps the result of unwillingness to reveal herself entirely. There is a clear distancing of poet from subject in the early works of Dark Summer (1929); and in all but a few poems Bogan objectifies responses to experience and ideas through the use of third person or of a persona.
Bogan's greatest skill lies in metric variation and in rendering descriptions in taut language whose sound values are brilliant yet seemingly effortless as in "Night," "Song for the Last Act," "Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral," "Roman Fountain," "After the Persian." The subject matter of Bogan's poetry includes love, loss, grief, mutability, the struggle of the free mind, marriage, and dream. There is no mention of the city or society; settings and imagery are drawn from nature—the country or sea, seasons and storms. Landscape and weather are sometimes menacing as in "The Flume," where autumn can be a positive, glowing season of endings. There is tension between passion of mind and flesh in early poems such as "The Alchemist" and "Men Loved Wholly Beyond Wisdom," where the earth and love triumph over intellect.
There is also a recurrent interest in women: struggling to maintain a free mind and independent being ("Sonnet," "The Romantic," "For a Marriage," "Betrothed"); failing to imagine and risk ("Women"); breaking into fury and madness ("The Sleeping Fury," "Evening in the Sanitarium"); experiencing love and surviving its endings ("Men Loved Wholly Beyond Wisdom," "Fifteenth Farewell," "My Voice Not Being Proud," "Portrait"). Adrienne Rich has justly called attention to "the sense of mask, of code, of body-mind division, of the 'sleeping fury' beneath the praised, severe, lyrical mode."
Bogan received many awards for her poetry, among them the Bollingen Prize in poetry (shared with Léonie Adams) for Collected Poems in 1955; the Academy of American Poets Award in 1959; and in 1967 one of five awards of the National Endowment for the Arts to "distinguished senior American writers." She was a Fellow in American Letters at the Library of Congress in 1944, and from 1945 to 1946 held the Chair of Poetry. She was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1952) and of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1968).
Body of this Death (1923). The Sleeping Fury (1937). Poems and New Poems (1941). Achievement in American Poetry, 1900-1950 (1951). Selected Criticism (1955). The Glass Bees by Ernst Juenger (trans. by Bogan, 1961). Elective Affinities by Goethe (trans. by Bogan, 1963). The Journal of Jules Renard (trans. by Bogan with E. Roget, 1964). The Golden Journey: Poems for Young People (ed. by Bogan with W. J. Smith, 1965). The Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923-1968 (1968). A Poet's Alphabet: Reflections on the Literary Art and Vocation (eds. R. Phelps and R. Limmer, 1970). The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe (trans. by Bogan, 1971). Novella by Goethe (trans. by Bogan, 1971). What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan, 1920-70 (ed. R. Limmer, 1973).
Bowles, G. L., "Suppression and Expression in Poetry by American Women: Linda Bogan, Denise Levertov and Adrienne Rich" (dissertation, 1976). Couchman, J., "Linda Bogan: A Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Materials, 1915-1975: Parts I-II" in BB 33 (1976). Olson, E., "Linda Bogan and Léonie Adams" in ChiR 8 (Fall 1954). Perlmutter, E. P., "Doll's Heart: The Girl in the Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Linda Bogan" in TCL 23 (May 1977). Ramsay, P., "Linda Bogan" in Iowa Review 1 (1970). Roethke, T., "The Poetry of Linda Bogan" in MAQR 67 (Aug. 1960). Smith, W. J., Linda Bogan: A Woman's Words (1971). Woodard, D., This More Fragile Boundary: The Female Subject and the Romance Plot in the Texts of Millay, Wylie, Teasdale, Bogan (dissertation, 1993).
—THEODORA R. GRAHAM