First published by New Directions in 1949, Muriel Rukeyser’s Elegies were written over a seven-year period from the end of the Spanish Civil War, through World War II, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, to the start of the Cold War. Both an homage to Rilke’s Duino Elegies and a spiritual reckoning that is particularly resonant today, these poems present no angelic orders, only the difficulties of living in the modern world, the depths of shipwreck, and “Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all.”
Witness to the insanity of our wars, failures of imagination, betrayals, mass nightmare, she asks for nothing less than ‘the world one world / dreaming together.’ Her dream-singing is visionary and oracular but grounded in the body’s hungers, the urge for life, and connection. Her masterful rhythms and pacing, her long cadences and gorgeous language, all ask to be read aloud.
Muriel Rukeyser loved poetry more than anyone I know. She also believed it could change us, move the world.
Rukeyser appears more and more as an exemplary American modernist, the lyric poet of epic awareness.
The breadth, innovation, variety, and daring of Muriel Rukeyser’s work have always defined efforts to confine her. Rukeyser’s poetry is unequalled in the twentieth-century United States in its range of reference, its generosity of vision, and its energy.