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.
. . .
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,
Linking the tenements
Like an endless prayer."
that final arresting picture, wherein Hester street,
a forlorn woman over-born
By many babies at her teats,
Turns on her trampled bed to meet the day."
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."
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.
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
Babette Deutsch, "Two First Books," rev. of The Ghetto and Other Poems,
by Lola Ridge, The Little Review, May 1919: 65-68.
"A Poet in Arms"
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
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!
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 r?gime 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.
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.
Dreaming, debating, aspiring,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
too got up stiffly from the earth,
And held my heart up like a cup. . . . .
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–D?bris,
Spires and Palestine–which
hark back in form and spirit to the seven-line dedication.
This is D?bris:
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.
this is Palestine:
plant of Asia–
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?
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.
Kreymborg, "A Poet in Arms," rev. of The Ghetto and Other Poems, by
Lola Ridge, Poetry, Oct.-March, 1918-19: 335-40.
Excerpt from "China, Arabia, and Hester Street"
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
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.
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:
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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:
Excerpt from Our Singing Strength
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." . . .
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.
Alfred Kreymborg, Our Singing Strength, An Outline of American Poetry (1620-1930) (New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1929) 486-88.
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
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.
. . .
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 . . . .
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. . . .
Horace Gregory and Marya Zaturenska, A History of American Poetry 1900-1940 (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1942) 445-47.
also Hart Crane]