Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Friday, July 01, 2016

Марія Затуренська / Marya Zaturenska

Wikimedia Commons, public domain
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.

* * *

"What is easier than liking a book?  All sorts of people do it every day."


  1. Thanks for ignoring all troll gatekeepers of the literary arts and persevering. A worthy poet, for sure.

    1. It is really sad to see nothing much about her--and what little there is is condescending.

  2. It's funny how often I see university-level teachers of literature/poetry dismiss craft as something suitable only for hacks, and adept use of existing forms as equivalent to being stillborn.

    Of course, Zaturenska was a woman. We all know that women can make pretty things, but they don't make work which endures.

    That "troubled whiteness on a heavy green" is just great. When we discard poets as no longer au courant, we impoverish our language. I seem to be cranky this morning; sorry! Beautiful poems, thank you for finding and sharing them.

    1. I stumbled on Zaturenska in a used bookstore in Provincetown but didn't know much about her--brought the book home and am reading! Yes, "beauty" and "craft" and "form" are all anathema to many academic poets and literature teachers. Let us be cranky about this!

  3. Z uses space and volumes in interesting ways; they are visually busy, implanting and transplanting images across and back to effect a sense of reality. some if it is quite striking, but i think i prefer R's quieter, meditational murmurings that flow in and out in a natural way...

    1. Oh, I'm quite fond of Raine--haven't yet read enough of Zaturenska to contrast with any fairness, as I've only read some of the early poems. I'll probably post on her again, and maybe set her next to Raine or Bogan or Muir to compare.

  4. The quatrain of Raine calls to mind lines in "Meditations in Time of Civil War", roughly "I count the feathered balls of soot/The moorhen guides upon the stream/And turn from my chamber window, caught/In the cold snows of a dream."


    1. Marly Youmans7:08 PM, July 01, 2016
      The narrator's confessed "envy" of the young, robust soldiers leads to his seeing chicks as "balls of soot," to his withdrawal, to his "cold snows of a dream." Raine has a similar kind of use of the natural to embody an idea, and she certainly reaches for the stream / dream conjunction that Yeats loves.

  5. Also: somewhere or another Karl Shapiro wrote of a European poet who spoke well of one of his prose poems, and asked him why he didn't regularly write such. Shapiro said that it was hard to break a 3000-year-old habit.

    And of course now, many years later, having forgotten even what that prose poem might have been, I can fish out of my memory bits and pieces of his more traditional verse...

    1. That's a wonderful response! I haven't read Shapiro in many years and don't have anything left in my memory. I read Jarrell at the same time and remember him better. Perhaps I ought to add Shapiro to the reread pile.

  6. Thanks for this, Marly. I just spent a pricely three bucks to order a battered copy of her collected poems from 1965.

    1. I expect that is a pretty good buy! Was going to type in another poem but see that I have done my usual and left the book lying around...somewhere.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.