Chapin, Katherine Garrison
CHAPIN, Katherine Garrison
Born 4 September 1890, Waterford, Connecticut; died 30 December 1977, Devon, Pennsylvania
Daughter of Lindley H. and Cornelia Van Auken Chapin; married Francis Biddle, 1918
Educated at private schools and Columbia University, Katherine Garrison Chapin was a poet, playwright, translator, reviewer and lecturer. In the late 1920s, she published poems in such magazines as Harper's, Scribner's, Saturday Review, North American Review, Poetry, and the Ladies' Home Journal. Some of her poems were set to music and performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Orquesta Sinfonica de Mexico. Among these are "Lament for the Stolen" (1938), "And They Lynched Him on a Tree" (1940), and "Plain Chant for America" (1943). Chapin's readings of her poems have been recorded in the Library of Congress Series (1945-60) and for Harvard's Lamont Library (1961).
Chapin's subjects and opinions are typical of the times between 1930 and 1960, though she makes little direct reference to World War II. She treats such American subjects as Nancy Hanks; Gettysburg, and describes the landscapes of Maine, New Mexico, and New Orleans. She also gives accurate pictures of foreign places, often those significant in the history of Western civilization (Stonehenge, the Tiber, the Nile). Sometimes she speaks in the generalized voices of woman: as a bereaved mother in "Lament for the Stolen," a poem on the Lindbergh kidnapping, as an anxious mother in "Nancy Hanks," and as an affectionate and dependent lover in "Maine Night."
Chapin's most ambitious poem is the long title poem of her last book, The Other Journey (1959). In it she explores the primal generic self. She sees poetry's function as vatic and invokes the natural powers of bird and sea and sun on the self's outward journey into space. Then her "heart returns on the other journey," the inner journey, "To reach a source serene or ominous /…Where the unfinished revelation starts." The two journeys are actually one, going backward into time, through history and prehistory, into preconsciousness. The circular movement from life into death into life again is the ultimate truth.
In poetic technique Chapin is barely influenced by the modernist poets. Her lyrics are chiefly in rhyme and meter, controlled but not exceptionally tight or brilliant, and in no way innovative. Though she does use some free verse, its freedom consists mostly in varied line lengths. It is still largely iambic, often metrical, and employs frequent rhyme. Throughout, her imagery tends to be traditional and the metaphoric structures simple.
In her poems Chapin shows that she is an aware member of her world, has an appropriate and dignified concern for its defects and possibilities, and indulges in no self-pity. In the words of Allen Tate, "Miss Chapin's poems … will not give the reader the shock he has come to expect from our present 'cult of experience."' But they will give him or her a feeling of calm, the kind of calm that results from witnessing an educated, intelligent woman face an intractable universe with no help but her own resolution and her skill with tested tools.
The Tapestry of the Duchess (1925). Outside of the World (1930). Bright Mariner (1933). Time Has No Shadow (1936). Sojourner Truth (1948).
A.B. Bookman's Weekly (20 Feb. 1978). NR (9 May 1960). NYT (2 Jan. 1978). NYTBR (10 April 1960). WP (31 Dec. 1977).