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from January 21, 1983, The New York Times Obituaries: Miss Zaturenska, who was married to Horace Gregory, the Bollingen Prize poet, wrote eight volumes of her poetry and edited six anthologies. Her many awards included the Shelley and John Reed Prizes from Poetry Magazine, where her work was first published.
Mrs. Gregory was born in Kiev, Russia, and came to the United States at the age of 8, living with her parents on Henry Street, near the Settlement House. While working in factories, she attended high school at night. In 1922, she received a scholarship to Valparaiso University in Indiana and, a year later, transferred to the University of Wisconsin. She graduated from the Wisconsin Library School in 1925 and was married to Mr. Gregory that year. Final Volume in '74 Her books included ''Threshold and Heart''[sic], ''Cold Morning Sky,'' for which she received the Pulitzer Prize, ''Collected Poems'' and, her final volume, published in 1974, ''The Hidden Waterfall.''
Marya Zaturenska appears to be almost wholly forgotten, at least so far as the internet is concerned. Several of her poems are online at American Studies at the University of Virginia,
along with some rather dismissive comments:
Althoug [sic] she is still regarded as a technically skilled poet her adherence to the modes and methods of the English decadent school, a movement of the late 19th and early 20th century which, "proclaimed the superiority of art over nature and often found the greatest beauty in dying things" eventually "earned her a reputation as an 'old-fashioned' writer" and relegated her work to the status of "quaint epiphanies" (Contemporary Authors Online).
"Adherence to the modes." "Old-fashioned." "Quaint epiphanies." Rather scornful, no? Just think of her, a young girl laboring in a factory by day and going to school at night, already writing poetry! How dare someone at the University of Virginia put her in a "quaint" box and shut the lid without more of an inspection? These days, "technically skilled" is probably also a slap in her face, at least when it comes from the academy. More than a century on, the ivory tower still believes that "free verse" is "new" and form out of date.
Well, I happen to think it ridiculous to judge a poet by supposed adherence to a "school"; it doesn't even matter what poets call themselves in that way (school or no-school.) It just matters whether the poems remain alive.
She seems to be a lover of older poetry, though I also see connections to contemporaries. I've just begun noodling around in her Collected Poems
but already see that Zaturenska loves the Renaissance--Waller and Herrick and Sidney and more. I have already caught a near-echo of Henry Vaughan (his "Silence and stealth of days") and some likenesses to early Kathleen Raine (and therefore to Yeats.)
Raine and Zaturenska were near contemporaries, but the utter dearth of information online (and the dearth of first-rate libraries in the boondockeries of central New York) doesn't tell me if they knew each other's work. The poems in Zaturenska's Threshold and Hearth
(1934) keep reminding me of some Raine poems in Stone and Flower
(1943.) Here's Zaturenska's Daphne-in-transformation:
Roots spring from my feet, Apollo, like a tree
The silver laurels grow deep into me;
Undone, undone, these thoughts of mine that beat
With a great vigor in the drouth and heat;
So my blood answers, so with sap my veins,
So as leaves in whom no wind complains,
This is the metamorphosis, this the change
Through which my days now range:
That which was I, am now no longer I,
Among my branches let the wild birds cry,
Around me let the alien rivers flow,
Beneath my shade let other maidens go.
Like Raine, she wanders in mythic lands ruled by Apollo. But I've also bumped up against a few Zaturenska poems that take me back to another kind of myth, to Poe and his admirers--the vulture and the abyss, the pursuit of demons, the horror in the blood. Even in gentler, milder poems, Zaturenska's teller is restless and pursued by shadows. Here's a quiet, "unquiet" poem that reminds me again of Raine:
Images in Lake Water
The tree's sun-glittering arms are bowed
With graceful supplication in lake water.
Metallic-green and musically still
Float tree and water in one image, solitary and proud,
Till the bird-image joins them and the cloud.
Idly I watch the glimmering lights depart,
So gay falls summer glittering on the lake
And on the dreaming trees, on my transfigured heart
Grown iridescent for a shadow's sake.
Unchanging and transparent solitude
Where mobile waters haunt the enduring dream
That trembles like a lily on the stream,
A troubled whiteness on a heavy green,
A starry snowdrop on a summer scene.
Imagination colors all our watching mood,
The day contracted to a pool, a tree, a shade
All summer shining in a little space,
And the slow falling of the night delayed
With flowing images in the mind, betrayed
In mirrored silence, my unquiet face.
Raine's fish that is shadow and stillness, "unmoved, equated with the stream / As flowers are fit for air, man for his dream," comes to mind. And I'm thinking of Yeats again, his fairies who give "unquiet dreams," his "unquiet wanderer," or his fusion of heart and bird and cloud and stream and the troubling of waters here:
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute.
On a side note, Raine was quite frank and generous in regards to her debt to Yeats (and Blake.) Here's a little poem ("Returning Autumn") from Kathleen Raine's Stone and Flower
All creatures passionate for grace
Quest their desire through groves and seas
That flesh may win a human face,
And pain be crowned with holiness.
And lovers out of present days
Float back upon the body's dream
Of a green branch that dips and sways,
Caught in the current of a stream.
Has anybody channeled Yeats more thoroughly than Raine in that second stanza? The lovers, body and the dream, the green branch, the stream: it is wonderfully Yeatsian. I don't know if any early twentieth-century poet could play with such images without invoking Yeats. After all, he is--to re-cast his own metaphor--a cloud that casts a mighty shadow on the living stream.
I can't help thinking that Raine and Zaturenska might have liked each other's poems. Among her contemporaries, Zaturenska seems not only kindred to Kathleen Raine, but to Louise Bogan and Edwin Muir in mythic focus.
So I shall read some more of Marya Zaturenska and see what I find. I think it would be interesting to take a peek at the Pulitzer winners from the last century and pay attention to why their work has lasted or fallen away. For now, I shall pay some attention to Zaturenska and her life in poetry.
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"What is easier than liking a book? All sorts of people do it every day."