Poetess Tradition

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Excerpt from A Critical Fable               TEI-encoded version

Except from A Critical Fable

Amy Lowell

[In (New York, NY, USA: Houghton Mifflin and Company, 1922): ]


     Upon reaching my friend -- and let me explain
     That these scenes in the scene all take place in my brain --
     I began with a few neatly turned words on love
     As the poets' own bourne, and declared that no glove
5     Ever fitted a hand with less wrinkling and snugger
     Than this theme this poet. Here I noticed her shrug her
     Shoulders a little, which was rather upsetting.
     However, it may have been only coquetting.
     Still I thought it was wise to get on with my tale:
10     "Our love-poet, par excellence, Sara Teasdale,"
     I said with a flourish. Now that was a whale
     Of a compliment, such things deserve an entail,
     'Twas so brilliantly super even if it were true,
     And I knew very well 'twas but one of a cue.
15     "This poet," I went on, "is a great niece of Sappho,
     I know not how many 'greats' laid in a row
     There should be, but her pedigree's perfectly clear;
     You can read it in Magazine Verse for the year,
     She is also a cousin, a few times removed,
20     Of dear Mrs. Browning, that last can be proved.
     The elder poet hid in a shrouding mantilla
     Which she called Portuguese. Was ever trick sillier?
     Our Sara is bolder, and feels quite at ease
     As herself; in her mind there is nothing to tease.
25     Dale and valley, the country is hers she traverses,
     She has mapped it all out in a bushel of verses.
     Sara Teasdale she is -- was -- for our minnesinger,
     Behind her front door, is now Mrs. Filsinger.
     A hard question this, for a hand-maid of Muses,


30     When she's once made a name in cold print which she loses
     On taking a husband, the law's masculinity
     Would seem to demand a perpetual virginity
     For all married poets of the downtrodden sex.
     To forfeit the sale of a new volume checks
35     Even marital ardor, to say nothing of checks.
     It's just this sort of thing which so frequently wrecks
     Himself on his wife when the lady's composing
     Under whatever name, the world grows awarer
     Every year of the prize we have got here in Sara.
40     She has no colors, no trumpets, no platforms, no skepticisms,
     She has no taste for experiments, and joins in no schisms:
     She just sings like a bird, and I think you'll agree
     This is clearly the place for the china-berry tree --
     With a difference, the bird in that pleasant, arboreal
45     Importation had three tones, while her reportorial
     Range is compassed in one, the reflex amatorial.
     She loves in a charming, perpetual way,
     As though it just came when she was distrait,
     Or quite occupied in affairs of the day.


50     Or else, and I think the remark's more acute
     She lives as the flower above a deep root.
     Like a dedicate nun, she tells bead after bead
     At Matins, Tierce, Vespers. You'd think she'd be treed
     Just once a while to find something to say.
55     Not at all, she's a vast catalogue raisonnée
     Of the subject. No one's so completely au fait.
     Her poetry succeeds, in spite of fragility,
     Because of her very remarkable agility.
     There is no single stunt in the style amatory
60     Which is not included in her category,
     We may as well take that at once a priori.
     So easy to her seems the work of creation
     She might be just jotting down lines from dictation.
     There is nothing green here, each poem's of the ripest.
65     The income tax lists her as Cupid's own typist.
     Of course, it is true that she's not intellectual,
     But those poets who are, are so apt to subject you all
     To theories and treatises, the whole galvanometry
     Of the bardling who thinks verse a sort of geometry.
70     Now Sara's as easy to read as a slip
     On a piece of banana, and there's no need to skip,
     For each poem's so peculiarly like every other
     You may as well say where you are and not bother.
     She's that very rare compost, the dainty erotic;
75     Such a mixture can't fail to produce a hypnotic
     Effect on the reader, whose keenest sensation
     Will consist in a perfect identification
     Of himself with the poet, and her sorrows and joys
     Become his, while he swings to the delicate poise


80     Of a primitive passion so nicely refined
     It could not bring a blush to the most squeamish mind.
     Though the poems, I may add, are all interlined
     For the ready perusal of those not too blind.
     For Sara, if singer, is also a woman,
85     I know of no creature more thoroughly human.
     If woman, she's also a lady who realizes
     That a hidden surprise is the best of surprises.
     She seems a white statue awaiting unveiling,
     But raised on a platform behind a stout railing
90     Whence she lures and retires, provoking a nearer
     Contact which is promised to be even dearer
     If we find we have courage enough not to fear her."
     I looked at my subject of find she'd departed,
     It's a habit of hers when a party's once started
95     To vanish unnoticed. My poetess had flown.

Date: 1922 (Coding Revisions: 12/31/2005). Author: Amy Lowell (Coding Revisions: Laura Mandell).
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