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Criticism on Ridge

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.

. . .

 One 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."

What 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.

How 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.

Why 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.

 But 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:

Figures drift upon the benches
With no more rustle than dropped leaf settling--
Slovenly figures like untied parcels,
And papers wrapped about their knees. . . .

 These 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 "cafés 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."

The 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).

Censored lies that mimic truth . . .
    Censored truth as pale as fear . . .
My heart is like a rousing bell--
    And but the dead to hear . . .

My heart is like a mother bird,
   Circling ever higher,
And the nest-tree rimmed about
   By a forest fire . . .

My heart is like a lover foiled
    By a broken stair--
They are fighting tonight in Sackville street,
    And I am not there.

Here 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.

F. 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"

The 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.

. . .

Here 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.

But 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.

One 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.

From 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 Poems.] 

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.

. . .

To come from these quaint alleys [of Bodenheim] into the loud jostle of "The Ghetto" is to be aware of the power of the latter at the cost of its intensity.  That may be nothing more than the ultimate difference between the symbolist and the realist.  But symbolism divorced from reality is purely vapid, and a realism too stark is like the barren triumph of the intellect. . . .  Not that Lola Ridge is either cold or insensitive.  But her vision is no less limited than Bodenheim's, if engaged with another scene, and her violence is sometimes strident rather than stern.  It is curious that one should feel her the more immature of the two, more sincere in her emotions and less earnest, or perhaps only less concentrated in her art.  There are flashes of insight as clear as his, but she cannot sustain her attack.  She works on a larger canvas, but her colors are all dull crimsons, orange, and sullen black.  Bodenheim's metaphors may come hurtling like seven astounding flashlights crossing, braided, and swung through the night sky.  Lola Ridge throws the glow of sudden lamps, sharp and electric, but single and scattered.  She is capable of such a perfection as showing the Friday night candles,

"Coupling other lights,
Linking the tenements
Like an endless prayer."

Or of that final arresting picture, wherein Hester street,

"Like a forlorn woman over-born
By many babies at her teats,
Turns on her trampled bed to meet the day."

 And she is also capable of such an anomalous confusion of New York's east side with the conventions of New England as to speak of an old Jew as

". . . one who holds
The wisdom of the Talmud stored away
In his mind's lavendar."

 Nearly all her poems are too long.  Bodenheim may pour a bright liquor into too narrow a jar, that will overflow in sweet drops on its lip.  Lola Ridge brews a darker potion, an "iron wine", but it lies in deep flagons, heavy to lift.   It is in the brief glimpse, the dark vivid drama of a phrase, that she challenges ugliness and poverty and futile death.  She should be able to make hokkus that would sting and rend as her semi-epical efforts do in sudden incisive moments.  An angry mob is terrible, but its anger is a thing diffused and obscure contrasted with the deep intensity of an individual.

Both of these poets are more penetrating when one reads single poems than when one accepts an entire book.  Bodenheim's subtlety is apt to become a labyrinth of crowding images;  Lola Ridge's vigorous apprehension of life is apt to descend to the monotonous savagery of a drum.  Each retains, however, a rare and exciting savor; the intriguing strength of those content to be solitary, the beauty of those in whom the passions of the body are no more imperative than the passions of the mind.

From Babette Deutsch, "Two First Books," rev. of The Ghetto and Other Poems, by Lola Ridge, The Little Review, May 1919: 65-68.

Alfred Kreymborg
"A Poet in Arms"

This book is dedicated, in an introductory poem, To The American People.  In order to appreciate fully the challenge of its seven lines, one should know that Lola Ridge is Australian by birth.  She came to this country fourteen years ago.

Will you feast with me, American people?
But what have I that shall seem good to you!
On my board are bitter apples
And honey served on thorns,
And in my flagons fluid iron
Hot from the crucibles.
How shall such fare entice you!

Indeed, this small book holds little which could entice average American gentlefolk who are so content with conditions as they are that they never disturb themselves as to their composition or de-composition.  These conditions are subjected to the most uncompromising excoriation I've ever seen between two American bookboards, through the twin media of conditions as they aren't and as they should be.  In other words, Lola Ridge is a revolutionist.  She is a prototype of the artist rebels of Russia, Germany, and Austro-Hungary who were the forerunners of the present régime over there--men like Dostoievsky, Gorky, Moussorgsky, Beethoven, Heine, Hauptmann, Schnitzler.  I don't mean that Lola Ridge is that horrific creature, a masquerading propagandist.  She is first and always an artist.  In trumpeting for freedom, going to blows for it, housing it in an art form, one unconsciously destroys its opposite.  Love destroys hate and convention; libertarians, demi-gods; artists, shackling traditions; form, formalism.   Beethoven hammered out nine symphonies, at least five of which were revolutionary. Back in Waterloo time, he was denounced as a noisy lunatic, a savage smashing old forms.  On the contrary, he created Beethoven without destroying Mozart, for Mozart was himself a revolutionary.  Without hinting at comparison, I'd like to predict that Lola Ridge will be charged with lunacy, incendiarism, nihilism, by the average American who reads her book.  The everlasting minority will proclaim her another free singer, another creator of free form.

The Ghetto is a magnificent pageant of the Jewish race in nine chapters.  In this single work the poet surpasses the dramatist, David Pinski, who is, in my opinion, easily the leading figure among the Jews themselves over here, and perhaps the foremost writer for the theatre regardless of race or language.  Her uncanny range of knowledge of the Jew and her realistic presentation of his lives are heightened and made plastic by the magic of the detached imagination which hovers always a little above realism and formulates its relative compositional values.  Philosophically, she is more robust than Pinski.  In the final analysis, she doesn't see the Jew as a tragic type.

Bartering, changing, extorting,
Dreaming, debating, aspiring,
Astounding, indestructible
Life of the Ghetto . . . . .
Strong flux of life,
Like a bitter wine
Out of the bloody stills of the world. . . . .
Out of the Passion eternal.

 She sees the future of the race more clearly than the Jews themselves.  She prognosticates the Jew as one of the leaders in the new world, and her vision is borne out by even a casual perusal of the present-day names of men who are re-moulding Europe.  For sheer passion, deadly accuracy of versatile images, beauty, richness and incisiveness of epithet, unfolding of adventures, portraiture of emotion and thought, pageantry of push-carts--the whole lifting, falling, stumbling, mounting to a broad, symphonic rhythm, interrupted by occasional elfin scherzi--well, The Ghetto  was felt by a saint who wasn't afraid to mix with the earth, and recorded by a devil who must inevitably return to heaven.  Perhaps Lola Ridge is only another Babushka released from exile to a place of leadership among her contemporaries.

There are a number of long poems, the best being Flotsam, Faces, The Song of Iron, Frank Little at Calvary, The Everlasting Return  and The Edge.  Poe's sentimental tirade against the long poem is refuted here.  There's only room for a few lines from Flotsam, but they give you the plot of the poem, and a reminiscence of a Rembrandt etching.

This old man's head
Has found a woman's shoulder.
The wind juggles with her shawl
That flaps about them like a sail,
And splashes her red faded hair
Over the salt stubble of his chin.
A light foam is on his lips,
As though dreams surged in him
Breaking and ebbing away. . . . .
And the bare boughs shuffle above him
And the twigs rattle like dice. . . . .
She--diffused like a broken beetle--
Sprawls without grace,
Her face gray as asphalt,
Her jaws sagging as on loosened hinges. . . . .
Shadows ply about her mouth--
Nimble shadows out of the jigging tree,
That dances above her its dance of dry bones.

The Song of  Iron  is an exhortation to labor swinging to the rhythm of a paean, and a warning to "Dictators--late Lords of the Iron."  It recalls the exultation of the last movement of Beethoven's dance symphony, the Seventh.  Underneath the hammering rhythm, as relentless as a machine and as primitively nude as the animal, surges the call of mate to mate.  It is my favorite poem in the book.  Frank Little at Calvary is more than a fictitious rendering of the last moments of the I. W. W. leader, and suggests the part his execution may play in the future.  The Edge--And I lay quietly on the drawn knees of the mountain, staring into the abyss--is an ecstatic nature lyric closing on the serene cadence,

And I too got up stiffly from the earth,
And held my heart up like a cup. . . . .

 In some of her short poems, Lola Ridge participates in the crystallization of concentrated strength achieved by Emily Dickinson, Adelaide Crapsey and H. D.  There are, particularly, three in seven lines--Débris, Spires  and Palestine--which hark back in form and spirit to the seven-line dedication.   This is Débris:

 I love those spirits
That men stand off and point at,
Or shudder and hood up their souls--
Those ruined ones,
Where Liberty has lodged an hour
And passed like flame,
Bursting asunder the too small house.

 And this is Palestine:

 Old plant of Asia--
Mutilated vine
Holding earth's leaping sap
In every stem and shoot
That lopped off, sprouts again--
Why should you seek a plateau walled about,
Whose garden is the world?

In these reconstructive days, liberty is being re-defined, nationalism is approximating internationalism, the personal is trying to approach the impersonal.  For myself, I must say that I cannot feel that liberty, internationalism and the impersonal will ever be realized.  But for every attempt made, however unsuccessful of accomplishment, all the blood-drops in me are grateful and sing hosannas.  They respond to Lola Ridge.

 Alfred Kreymborg, "A Poet in Arms," rev. of The Ghetto and Other Poems, by Lola Ridge, Poetry, Oct.-March, 1918-19: 335-40.

Louis Untermeyer
Excerpt from "China, Arabia, and Hester Street"

In spite of Kipling's most-quoted couplet, there is more than a little in common between the two hemispheres that are mirrored in these contrasting volumes.  Kipling himself has grown to see (vide  "The Eyes of Asia") that the Orient and the Occident do meet, and meet on commoner ground than he ever imagined.  So here, in four widely divergent poets, a kinship is established not only between East and West, but between the Near East, the Far East, and the East Side.  It is a shifting but universal mysticism that runs through these dissimilar pages, a hushed and sometimes exalted blend of reality and idealization.  Miss Ridge achieves it most subtly; she accomplishes the greatest results with the least amount of effort.  Nothing is forced or artificialized in her energetic volume, which contains some of the most vibrant utterances heard in America since Arturo Giovannitti's surprisingly neglected "Arrows in the Gale."

 "The Ghetto" is essentially a book of the city, of its sodden brutalities, its sudden beauties. It seems strange, when one considers the regiments of students of squalor and loveliness, that it has remained for one reared far from our chaotic centres to appraise most poignantly the life that runs through our crowded streets.  Miss Ridge brings a fresh background to set off her sensitive evaluations; her early life in Australia has doubtless enabled her to draw the American city with such an unusual sense of perspective.  Her detachment, instead of blurring her work, focuses and sharpens it.  The city dominates this book; but the whole industrial world surges beneath it.  "The Song of Iron," with its glorification of Labor, is a veritable paean of triumph.   And yet, cut of these majestically sonorous lines, the still small voice of the poet makes itself heard--a strangely attenuated voice with a tense accent, a fineness that, seeming fragile, is like the delicacy of a thin steel spring.

Nowhere does this distinction of speech maintain itself so strikingly as in the title-poem.  Here, except for certain slight circumlocutions, it approaches perfection.  "The Ghetto" is at once personal in its piercing sympathy and epical in its sweep.  It is studded with images that are surprising and yet never strained or irrelevant; it glows with a color that is barbaric, exotic, and as local as Grand Street.  In this poem Miss Ridge achieves the sharp line, the arrest and fixation of motion, the condensed clarity advertised by the Imagists--and so seldom attained by them.   And to this technical surety she brings a far more human passion than any of them have ever betrayed.  Observe this description of Sodos, the old saddle-maker:

Time spins like a crazy dial in his brain,
And night by night
I see the love-gesture of his arm
In its green-greasy coat-sleeve
Circling the Book;
And the candles gleaming starkly
On the blotched-paper whiteness of his face
Like a miswritten psalm. . . .
Night by night
I hear his lifted praise,
Like a broken whinnying
Before the Lord's shut gate.

Or turn to the picture of the aged scholar who smiles at the "stuffed blue shape backed by a nickel star," smiles

        . . . with the pale irony
Of one who holds
The wisdom of the Talmud stored away
In his mind's lavender.

And this, after running the gamut of emotional characterization, is "The Ghetto's" final cadence.  (I cannot consider the poet's italicized addenda as anything but a rather rhetorical envoy which would have been more effective as a separate poem):

Without, the frail moon,
Worn to a silvery tissue,
Throws a faint glamour on the roofs,
And down the shadowy spires
Lights tip-toe out . . .
Softly, as when lovers close street doors.

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,
And Hester Street . . .
Turns on her trampled bed to meet the day.

Elsewhere the same dignity is maintained, though with less magic.   Miss Ridge sometimes falls into the error of over-capitalizing her metaphors and the use of "like" as a conjunction.  The other poems echo, if they do not always attain, the fresh beauty of "The Ghetto."  Such poems as "Manhattan Lights," "Faces," "Frank Little at Calvary," "The Everlasting Return," the brilliantly ironic "Woman With Jewels," the lyric "The Tidings"--these are all sharply written in different keys, but they are intuitively harmonized.  They vibrate in unison.  The volume itself is not so much a piece of music as a cry: a cry not only from the heart of a particularly intense poet, but from the heart of an intensified age.

From Louis Untermeyer, "China, Arabia, and Hester Street," rev. of The Ghetto and Other Poems, by Lola Ridge, The New York Evening Post 1 Feb. 1919, sec. 3: 1+.

Alfred Kreymborg
Excerpt from Our Singing Strength

"Sun-Up" is a quieter, mellower volume.  The title poem is composed of a series of Imagistic etchings limning incidents out of an Australian infancy.  The speech is authentically childlike, and the episode with Jude particularly moving.   There are also some adult memoirs called "Monologues."  The best poems in the book are the further songs of rebellion:  "Sons of Belial" and "Reveille." . . .

 "Red Flag," issued two years ago, has a double interest: the entrance of Communist Russia on the one hand and of traditional sonnets on the other. . . .The sonnets of Miss Ridge are not the equal of her poems in free verse.  None the less, despite an awkward handling of metrics, her spirit pervades each poem.  Of the Russian poems, "Snow-Dance For The Dead," is a delicate elegy in which children are invited to undulate like the snow and to "dance beneath the Kremlin towers" for soldiers fallen in the Red Revolution.  If Lola Ridge should ever die, Russia ought to honor her at the side of Jack Reed.  So should Ireland, Australia, America, and every other land in whose heart freedom is more than an worn-out word.

From Alfred Kreymborg, Our Singing Strength, An Outline of American Poetry (1620-1930)  (New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1929)  486-88.

[Reed was an American journalist best known for his account of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia (1917), Ten Days That Shook The World.  He founded the American Communist Labor Party and was buried in the Kremlin.  His book became the basis of Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein's Ten Days That Shook The World (1927) and Warren Beatty's Reds (1981).  Reds is available on Paramount Home Video VHS 1331.]

Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska
Excerpt from A History of American Poetry 1900-1940

Her [Ridge's] devotion was one that can be described only in terms of a saintliness that Paul Vincent Carroll in his one felicitous play, Shadow and Substance, gave to his memorable and vision-haunted Irish heroine.  Those who remember Lola Ridge also remember the large, barely furnished, wind-swept, cold-water loft where she lived in downtown Manhattan.  The loft was verylike some neatly, frugally kept cold-water flat in Dublin, and the unworldy presence of Lola Ridge, a slender, tall, softly-speaking, thin-featured woman in a dark dress, heightened the illusion of being in a place that was not New York, but was well in sight of Dublin's purple hills.  Even as one rereads her books one gains the impression that she regarded her social convictions and the writing of poetry in the same spirit in which an Irish girl invokes the will of God by entering a convent--but Lola Ridge's devotion had turned to self-taught and protestant demands, and the task, the almost impossible task, of making social and religious emotion a unified being was an effort that remained unfinished at her death.

. . .

In Dance of Fire  Lola Ridge's poetic maturity began, and it was evident that in the sonnet sequence, "Via Ignis," which opened her last volume, Hart Crane's revival of Christopher Marlowe's diction left its impression upon her imagination.  The poems were written at a time when many of those who had read Hart Crane's The Bridge felt the implied force of Crane's improvisations in archaic diction . . . .

Yet despite their dignity and perhaps because of the high, disinterested motives of their composition, the sonnets remained disembodied and curiously abstract.  It was as though the poet had become aware of her lyrical gifts too late to find the words with which to express them clearly; felicitous lines and phrases flowed through the sequence of twenty-eight sonnets, and it is impossible to reread them without respect for the saintly, unworldy motives that seem to have inspired the interwoven themes of "Via Ignis." . . . Her moral courage and her imaginative insights seem to have reached beyond her strength, and if her devotion to poetry and the frustrations of the poor fell short of accomplishment in the writing of a wholly memorable poem, her failure was an honorable one.   For the literary historian her verse provides a means of showing that the younger writers of the 1930's [sic] were not the first to rediscover the ghettos of New York in a city that was all too obviously ill at ease between two wars.  And few of those who followed the direction she had taken wrote from the selfless idealism of Lola Ridge. . . .

 From Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska, A History of American Poetry 1900-1940  (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1942)  445-47.

[See also Hart Crane]

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