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Criticism On Ridge Essay, Research Paper

F. Hackett

"Lola Ridge’s Poetry"

One of

the hardest things in life, especially literary life, is to admit one’s significant

emotions. Appropriate emotions are quite a

different story. Almost everyone, from

President Wilson down to the cheapest writer of advertising copy, has had practice in

meeting circumstance with just the right kind of propitiatory words. But outside this game of rhetoric, which is not

always so easy, there is the infinitely harder and finer art of self-expression–the art

of ascertaining as well as revealing self. To

give voice to significant emotions–that is the essence of poetry which in turn is the

essence of literature. What does one mean by

"significant"? One means, I

suppose, the emotions which determine personality and outlook and association and conduct. One means the emotions that are motive, that have

life in them and legs under them, whether they crawl underneath the surface of things or

come out above the surface and face a world. And

the poet, for me, is the person who is so related to life by imagination and meditation

that he can open out his emotions and find them truly significant–significant to himself

and to the person who is still shut in.

. . .


who seeks significant emotions rather than appropriate emotions in Miss Lola Ridge is not

likely to be unrequited. On the whole, it

must be said, she does not seem perfectly at ease in her art, and her illuminations are

most frequently the lightning-flash of analogy rather than the lyricism of full and steady

possession. But the heart of the matter, the

person of emotional significances, is there. Miss

Lola Ridge is capable of that powerful exaltation on the wings of real feeling which

brings a new world into vision. She is

capable of massing jeweled impressions until they seem to have the unity of a single

perception. More than once the wings of her

feeling seem to fall limp. She fails to share

the complete significance of which she herself is convinced. But when she does succeed, when the fullness of

her realizations is controlled and embodied, she is entitled to all the glory that is shed

by the name of poet.

In her

longest poem, The Ghetto, Miss Ridge seems to me to hover somewhere between

poetry and prose. A distinguished utterance The

Ghetto certainly is. It is beyond doubt

the most vivid and sensitive and lovely embodiment that exists in American literature of

that many-sided transplantation of Jewish city-dwellers which vulgarity dismisses with a

laugh or a jeer. The fact that Miss Ridge is

not a Jewess, is herself alien and transplanted, does not disqualify her vision. On the contrary, she is disengaged so that she can

move from reality to reality with a pure sense of the flood that immerses her. Could anyone less free see the "skinny hands

that hover like two hawks," or "newsboys with battling eyes," or a small

girl’s "braided head, shiny as a black-bird’s"?

The outsider alone, perhaps, could observe the "raw young seed of

Israel" and that insulted elder who, unperturbed, "keeps his bitter peace."


if a rigid arm and stuffed blue shape,

Backed by a nickel star,

Does prod him on,

Taking his proud patience for humility. . . .

All gutters are as one

To that old race that has been thrust

From off the curbstones of the world. . . .

And he smiles with the pale irony

Of one who holds

The wisdom of the Talmud stored away

In his mind’s lavender.


deep and sensitive the humanity of this passage, and yet The Ghetto as a whole

does not seem to me to possess the significance of emotion which would make it a great

poem, or even a poem. It ends with an

apostrophe to Life itself, but that envoy is pretty nearly rhetoric. It is insignificant compared to the stanza that

precedes it, beginning

Out of

the Battery

A little wind

Stirs idly–as an arm

Trails over a boat’s side in dalliance–

Rippling the smooth dead surface of the heat.


has The Ghetto the genius of prose rather than poetry? Because, as I see it, it never achieves that

synthesis to which rhyme is so often an aid, the synthesis of an intense emotion never

relinquished. What is the intense emotion

conveyed by The Ghetto? None. Its suggestions and evocations are beautiful, and

it is fortunate that Miss Ridge gave form to them, but the significance they have for her

does not seem final, and poetry is final.


brief finalities are scattered all through The Ghetto. Seldom does Miss Ridge fail to keep imagination

swung open by her use of analogy. Take these

lines in Flotsam:


drift upon the benches

With no more rustle than dropped leaf settling–

Slovenly figures like untied parcels,

And papers wrapped about their knees. . . .


are not wretched strivings after novelty. Miss

Ridge naturally sees "a glance like a blow" or beholds a down-and-out woman on

the benches, "diffused like a broken beetle," or "caf?s glittering like

jeweled teeth," or "beetle-backed limousines" or "the drawn knees of

the mountain," or "the snow with its devilish and silken whisper." Each of these figures is just and illuminative,

not mainly witty like the reference to a gaudy hat, "With its flower God never

thought of." Miss Ridge is much more likely to be deep than witty, as when

she envisages the poor smiling mother "with eyes like vacant lots."


grip of Miss Ridge’s poetry is most secure in those few poems of hers where her

inspiration transcends her alert creativeness. "The

Everlasting Return" is her best inspiration, it seems to me, among the long poems,

and her poem of the Irish Rebellion of 1916 seems to me much the most perfect realization

of what I pedantically call significant emotion. It

is called the Tidings (Easter, 1916).


lies that mimic truth . . .

Censored truth as pale as fear . . .

My heart is like a rousing bell–

And but the dead to hear . . .


heart is like a mother bird,

Circling ever higher,

And the nest-tree rimmed about

By a forest fire . . .


heart is like a lover foiled

By a broken stair–

They are fighting tonight in Sackville street,

And I am not there.


there is something more than ardent observation, something more than a legend of the reign

of labor. It is in lyrics like this, and the

lyric of the East St. Louis burning of a Negro baby, that Miss Ridge really forgets her

obligations to literature and fuses her emotion into her expression and becomes a full

poet. She loses her art to save it. But of course in the other strivings of her art it

is imperative to remember that Miss Ridge is an experimenter quite clearly centered in

that world of class struggle where poetry itself is still an aberration. In declining to adopt old forms, in preferring to

give even conventional sentiments about the north wind the liberation of free verse, Miss

Ridge is manifestly striving to reach a position unencumbered by the methods appropriate

to a different civilization. This striving is

not always brought to a happy ending in The Ghetto poems. Miss Ridge is not full master of any method or

medium. But her experiment is so obviously

necessary to her, so obviously part of a genuine development, that it would be absurd to

hold up her imperfections as something in the nature of things.


Hackett, "Lola Ridge’s Poetry," rev. of The Ghetto and Other Poems, by

Lola Ridge, The New Republic, 16 Nov. 1918: 76-77.

Conrad Aiken

Excerpts from "The Literary Abbozzo"


Italians use the word abbozzo–meaning a sketch or unfinished work–not only in

reference to drawing or painting but also as a sculptural term. The group of unfinished sculptures by Michelangelo

in Florence, for example, takes this name; they are called simply abbozzi. The stone is still rough–the conception has only

just begun to appear; it has not yet wholly or freely emerged. There is an impressiveness in the way in which the

powerful figures seem struggling with the rock for release.

And it is no wonder that Rodin and others have seen in this particular stage

of a piece of sculpture a hint for a new method based on the clear enough esthetic value

of what might be called the provocatively incomplete.

. . .


is a vivid personality [Ridge], even a powerful one, clearly aware of the peculiar

experience which is its own–a not too frequent gift.

It rejoices in the streaming and garishly lighted multiplicity of the city:

it turns eagerly toward the semi-tropical fecundity of the meaner streets and tenement

districts. Here it is the human item that

most attracts Miss Ridge–Jews, for the most part, seen darkly and warmly against a

background of social consciousness, of rebelliousness even.

She arranges her figures for us with a muscular force which seems masculine;

it is singular to come upon a book written by a woman in which vigor is so clearly a more

natural quality than grace. This is

sometimes merely strident, it is true. When

she compares Time to a paralytic, "A mildewed hulk above the nations squatting,"

one fails to respond. Nor is one moved

precisely as Miss Ridge might hope when she tells us of a wind which "noses among

them like a skunk that roots about the heart." It

is apparent from the frequency with which such falsities occur–particularly in the

section called Labor–that Miss Ridge is a trifle obsessed with the concern of being

powerful: she forgets that the harsh is only harsh when used sparingly, the loud only loud

when it emerges from the quiet. She is

uncertain enough of herself to deal in harshnesses wholesale and to scream them.


with due allowances made for these extravagances–the extravagances of the brilliant but

somewhat too abounding amateur–one must pay one’s respects to Miss Ridge for her very

frequent verbal felicities, for her images brightly lighted, for a few shorter poems which

are clusters of glittering phrases, and for the human richness of one longer poem, The

Ghetto, in which the vigorous and the tender are admirably fused. Here Miss Ridge’s reactions are fullest and

truest. Here she is under no compulsion to be

strident. And it is precisely because here

she is relatively most successful that one is most awkwardly conscious of the defects

inherent in the whole method for which Miss Ridge stands.

This is a use of the "provocatively incomplete"–as concerns

form–in which, unfortunately, the provocative has been left out. If we consider again, for a moment, Michelangelo’s

abbozzi we become aware how slightly, by comparison, Miss Ridge’s figures have

begun to emerge. Have they emerged enough to

suggest the clear overtone of the thing completed? The

charm of the incomplete is of course in its positing of a norm which it suggests,

approaches, retreats from, or at points actually touches.

The ghost of completeness alternately shines and dims. But for Miss Ridge, these subtleties of form do

not come forward. She is content to use for

the most part a direct prose, with only seldom an interpellation of the metrical, and the

metrical of a not particularly skilful sort. The

latent harmonies are never evoked.


hesitates to make suggestions. Miss Ridge

might have to sacrifice too much vigor and richness to obtain a greater beauty of form:

the effort might prove her undoing. By the

degree of her success or failure in this undertaking, however, she would become aware of

her real capacities as an artist. Or is she

wise enough to know beforehand that the effort would be fruitless, and that she has

already reached what is for her the right pitch? That

would be a confession but it would leave us, even so, a wide margin for gratitude.


Conrad Aiken, "The Literary Abbozzo," rev. of The Ghetto and Other Poems,

by Lola Ridge, The Dial 25 Jan. 1919: 83-84.

Babette Deutsch

Excerpts from "Two First Books"

[Poet and critic Deutsch reviews

Maxwell Bodenheim's Minna and Myself and Lola Ridge's The Ghetto and Other


They [Bodenheim and Ridge] approach

experience with the abandon of their lucidity. But

to read Bodenheim is to listen to chimes and flutings in a gallery that throws strange

echoes from its secret corners. To read Lola

Ridge is to shudder with the throb of unrelenting engines and the hammer on the pavement

of numberless nervous feet.

. . .


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