Sunday, May 02, 2021

'A Green Apron and Dead Desire'

“I’m so glad you liked the Swift poem. The Journal to Stella wrung my heart. The passion is so real, so imperfectly dissembled, and the wit is such a strange mixture of roughness and elegance. I’m eager to have [Swift’s] poems. Thank you, my dear, for getting them.” 

Louise Bogan is writing on this date, May 2, in 1931 to Edmund Wilson, from a sanitarium in Connecticut. The poem she had earlier sent to Wilson is “Hypocrite Swift,” which would be published in the October 1931 issue of Poetry. In it, Bogan shows more sympathetic insight into Swift’s nature than many critics.


She gets the Journal to Stella (1766), the letters written by Swift to Esther Johnson – known to Swift as Stella – between 1710 and 1713. Swift’s emotions in the Journal are powerful but impaired, defying expression. We infer his love for Stella – “so imperfectly dissembled” -- but instead he speaks of politics, the fortunes of the Tory party. He relishes gossip. He is ironic, often caustic, Swiftian. His words are woven through Bogan’s poem. She writes: “The satiric word / Dies in its horror.” Her tone is detached, almost clinical, neither defending nor damning Swift. And then the poem’s final lines: “Hypocrite Swift sent Stella a green apron / And dead desire.”


[Bogan’s letter is collected in A Poet’s Prose: Selected Writings of Louise Bogan (ed. Mary Kinzie, Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2005.]  

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