I put all this down in order to clarify my own heart

Louise Bogan
New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

It was in 1925 that Louise Bogan married Raymond P. Holden, marking the beginning of a tumultuous relationship. Eight years later, Bogan, a cornerstone of 20th-century American poetry, received a Guggenheim Fellowship, offering her a year in Italy and a much-needed escape from her troubled marriage. However, her European retreat lasted only five months, marred by loneliness and unsettling letters from her husband that hinted at infidelity. Upon her return to the U.S., her fears were confirmed, leading to a severe depression and, beginning in November, a six-month stay at the New York Hospital to treat what she described in a letter as a “bad nervous crack-up.” The couple separated in 1934 and finalised their divorce in 1937. Despite these personal challenges, Louise Bogan’s literary impact endured. In 1945, she became the first woman to be appointed United States Poet Laureate..

The Diary Entry

September 12, 1933 

Five days ago I came back to America after 5½ months away. R. met me at the pier. He looked pale, small, and washed out. He talked in an unbroken stream. He was immediately ready to defend his mistress: “There’s no one I know that you cannot know. Certainly I’ll bring her to the house.” 

All my determination not to let on and not to let go broke down when I saw the house rearranged, evidently with her help and reference to her taste. All the logical, realistic approaches to the problem that I had built up in the early mornings, in Salzburg, with agony and tears, were swept away when I saw the well-bred and collegiate details of the rearrangement. 

R.’s present situation is this, and there are reasons for it: 

He is making a great show of love and appreciation of my return. Part of this is no doubt sincere. When I am newly, freshly present, I can for a short time represent to him a full and romantic emotion. This, of course, will soon disappear, and he will more frequently and more openly show the resentment, the jealousy, the hatred that he really feels for me in his heart. For a few weeks he will make a great show of devotion and thereafter he will live more and more apart from me, and again take up his dependence on the other. 

And the reason for his continued romantic unfaithfulness is this: he has no intellectual interests. He cannot read, he cannot judge, he cannot analyze or plan. So he waits for the newest wind of romantic love to blow over him, and again and again writes a new series of sonnets, in which the stars bend from heaven and sink into his beloved’s eye. His life is again rescued, blessed and refreshed by a new woman. Nothing, in his actions, seems to him strange, or disloyal, because he cannot detach himself from the adolescent image he has of himself: the passionate lover, the poet drowned in his lover’s arms. 

To live with this kind of moral and emotional insanity is hideous. I cannot understand the reasons why I cannot at once break away. But I must admit to myself that I need devotion, even the devotion of a confused and mindless bundle of unresolved emotions like Raymond. I am not yet ready to stand by myself, so I share his bed, revile his character and endeavor to build my work on this unsteady basis. The situation could not fit the needs of my own obsessions better if it had been planned for them (to complete them) by some fiendish omniscient being. The distrust, the insecurity I feel shatters me open like repeated blows, and yet, at the present, I can do nothing, I am unable to will anything, in order to get away. 

O God, give me this power this year! 

Well, there is the situation as it now stands. It is my life as it now stands: I must examine it, but not let it hinder me or destroy me. Today—on September 12, 1933—I have the perhaps mistaken illusion that somehow the necessary change will come about by my own deed. But I may die with a gallery of R.’s romances all about me, with his latest sonnets to his latest star-lit love singing in my ears. It may be like that. Perhaps my fundamental weaknesses, or the profound fatigue of will that struck me eight or nine years ago (the result of turmoil—unspeakable turmoil—suffered in childhood, youth and early maturity) will make me strong through it all and suffer it all and endure it all. 

I am tired. I have much work to do. I don’t know. 

I put all this down in order to clarify my own heart. I have never been able to set down the intricacies of such a personal situation before. Here let it stand, as a part of my life. I, the woman who has finally abandoned her own romantic hopes, her own corroding dreams, who wishes for nothing but the continuance of a will to work, some food, shelter, clothing, and a good library—who at last has no longer any need of sympathetic friends, in confidants, who stands in this world as though she were already dead to its actions and its tumult, if not to its torment. 

If you could only love again! Not be loved, but love. At least R. is free of that disease, and perhaps, after all, healthier than you. Perhaps you are the canker, the lichen, the dry rot of life, and he is the sunny victor.

Further Reading

Much of the information I’ve included in the intro was gleaned from Elizabeth Frank’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Louise Bogan: A Portrait, which, unsurprisingly, is excellent. But the journal entry itself is taken from Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Louise Bogan, edited by Ruth Limmer and published in 1980. Reprinted by kind permission of The Louise Bogan Charitable Trust.


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