"Lola Ridge’s Poetry"
emotions. Appropriate emotions are quite a
different story. Almost everyone, from
of ascertaining as well as revealing self. To
"significant"? One means, I
come out above the surface and face a world. And
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
possession. But the heart of the matter, the
capable of massing jeweled impressions until they seem to have the unity of a single
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
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
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.
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.
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."
inspiration transcends her alert creativeness. "The
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.
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
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
just begun to appear; it has not yet wholly or freely emerged. There is an impressiveness in the way in which the
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
She arranges her figures for us with a muscular force which seems masculine;
sometimes merely strident, it is true. When
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
the effort might prove her undoing. By the
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
difference between the symbolist and the realist. But
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
and electric, but single and scattered. She
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
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
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
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
birth. She came to this country fourteen
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
Hauptmann, Schnitzler. I don’t mean that Lola
housing it in an art form, one unconsciously destroys its opposite. Love destroys hate and convention; libertarians,
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
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
themselves over here, and perhaps the foremost writer for the theatre regardless of race
or language. Her uncanny range of knowledge
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.
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
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
released from exile to a place of leadership among her contemporaries.
are a number of long poems, the best being Flotsam, Faces, The Song
refuted here. There’s only room for a few
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.
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.
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
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?
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
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
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
the American city with such an unusual sense of perspective. Her detachment, instead of blurring her work,
focuses and sharpens it. The city dominates
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
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
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." . . .
are not the equal of her poems in free verse. None
Dead," is a delicate elegy in which children are invited to undulate like the snow
Revolution. If Lola Ridge should ever die,
than an worn-out word.
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
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
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
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]