influenced by her travels in Europe in 1953-54, 1957-58, and
1962-63, Garrigue writes with complexity and perfection. She
is frequently inspired in her poetry by the artistic and romantic
qualities of nature. Born in Evansville,
this Hoosier left the state for undergraduate studies in Chicago,
graduate studies in Iowa, writing as an expatriate in Europe,
and finally settling in New England for the majority of her
adult life. In addition to travel, the theme of love often
appears in her most popular work relating images of nature
to the act itself. The Ego and the Centaur was Garrigue’s
first full-length publication in 1947. Several of the poems
in this work use nature to explain larger ideas, similar to
the metaphysical conceit of seventeenth century English literature.
Comparing the ups and downs of a relationship to that of the
weather in “The Double Praise that Simplifies the Heart,”
Yes! I would keep you from all who love you!
Claiming you as I claim the mountains and the fields.
O, you take up image and space as the mountain
Takes up the earth that makes me proudly,
Perceiving the flood and rough storm, marvel
At those who love only in part and shrewdly.
(The fury of nature teaches me honesty.) (E & C
Garrigue writes about the
flowers “vervain, Queen Anne’s lace, veronica,
bloodroot, crocuses, harebells, oleander, chrysanthemums,
and most essentially the rose” in a way in which the
“fleeting forms of light belie their seeming fragility
by withstanding nature’s extremes and cyclically renewing”
(Upton 85). Garrigue focuses more on nature in the poems “Forest,”
and “Motifs from the Dark Wood,” in which the
is a setting for nature’s insurmountable dominance.
She rattles the reader in “Forest” by writing:
There are short-stemmed forests so close to the ground
You would pity a dog lost there in the spore-budding
Blackness where the sun has never struck down.
There are dying ferns that glow like a gold mine
And weeds and sumac extend the Sodom of color.
Among the divisions of stone and the fissures of branch
Lurk the abashed resentments of the ego.
Do not say this is pleasurable! (Selected 13)
Garrigue’s woods are like those of Dante’s,
a place where one is intimidated and insecure: “the
woods lock us up/In the secret crimes of our intent”
(Selected 13). The forest is a battleground to the
poet, where humanity is not always welcomed.
attention from prolific critics like the poet Stanley Kunitz,
who “called Garrigue ‘a wildly gifted poet…whose
art took the road of excess that leads to the palace of wisdom,’
and also ‘our one lyric poet who made ecstasy her home’”(Upton
14), the poet made a successful career for herself teaching
at Bard, Queens, and Smith Colleges. In 1959, Garrigue published
A Water Walk by Villa d’Este,
a collection thematically focusing on walks near bodies of
water or landscapes flourishing with water, in which she “explored
desire and the mind’s continuum with the natural world”
(Upton 65). In this collection, water is inspiration, like
as in the poem “For the Fountains and Fountaineers of
While, to stand, sheathed in a grotto
On the reverse side of this shield of water,
Downpouring in pound on pound
Its chafed, silver-shot metal…
I know of no fury that tells
More to me, deafening, than that
Of a velocity past which I’d know
Nothing but the hurl and fall
Of those burst rockets of water
Driving their sweetness into the ground
In a blaze of lightning and stars
As in wet dusts shattering on stone
To explode with soft fury again. (Selected 65)
Though frequently overlooked by scholars and
readers alike, Jean Garrigue is one of the finest female American
poets of the twentieth century. Awarded a Guggenheim fellowship
in 1960-61, and nominated for a National Book Award for Country
Without Maps, her voice is strong and yielding, and her
imagery is vibrant, sometimes reflecting her Hoosier roots.
Garrigue, Jean. The Ego and the
Centaur. New York: New Directions, 1947.
---. Selected Poems. Urbana:
U of Illinois P, 1992.
Upton, Lee. Jean Garrigue, A Poetics
of Plentitude. London: Associated UP, 1991.
"Jean Garrigue." G.
Paul Bishop-Portraiture. 20 Nov. 2002 <http://www.gpaulbishop.com/GPB%20History/GPB%20Archive/Section%20-%204/J.%20Garrigue/j