Guests in Eden

A myth in the small town where she lived, she became known to the world only after she had died, and with her the fine genius of her New England. Her fame, as pure poet, has out­ grown that of every contemporary.

She had almost nothing to do with the literature of the age. The public hunt for local color passed her by, though she dis­tilled more of it into her ecstatic epigrams than the entire fash­ion ever came upon. Not too far from Emerson in opinion and temper, she was far away from the masters. Within herself, during her long solitude, she found inner circles of life, and circles within circles. In the last of them she lost the timidity with which she viewed the outer universe. She could be irreverent, tantalizing, and gay as well as nakedly sensitive to all experience and all reflection upon experience.

Often in the hundreds of her poems she appears to be talk­ing brilliantly to herself, trying to catch a spark of vision in a flashing image. The vision is what matters, not the form of expression, not even grammar and syntax. She might, having got her image, have gone on like most poets and rounded it to a form already devised. Instead she chose~ to let the image make its own form with the quick words she had found for it. She did not so much cut her poems to the bone as leave them as they were, without adding the customary flesh. Her work approaches poetry's irreducible minimum, which is poetry's immortal part.

To open her book is to enter a world which at first seems full of abstract terms walking angularly through a curious dance. Soon they are seen to be only the symbols of experi­ence. They are people of her world, in which all thoughts are alive. Everything in it is achingly alive. The New England God is there and the poet may speak flippantly to Him. Arch­angels and saints and heroes are at home with the robins and snakes and railway trains and telegrams and the flowers of the garden and all the business of keeping house. They move and turn like creatures studies under a microscope. Nothing stands dully still. Rocks breathe and stars play. The tiny stage swarms with innumerable dramas of the heart and mind

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Transcription and commentary copyright 2000 by
Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
Maintained by Lara Vetter <>
Last updated on March 10, 2008

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