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Criticism On Ridge Essay, Research Paper
"Lola Ridge’s Poetry"
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.
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
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.
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.
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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