Louise Bogan

The Correspondence of Louise Bogan

In this September 11, 1945 letter to her frequent correspondent and friend, the poet and critic Rolfe Humphries, Louise Bogan marvels at the unbelievable oddity of working at the Library of Congress as Consultant in Poetry, describes the views from her office window and wonders where fortune will take her next. She notes the generosity of Selden Rodman, a poet and anthologist who lent Bogan the use of his home in Georgetown while he was stationed outside of the country.

Dear Rolfe:

It would take the application of a major Victorian novelist—Dostoevski or Trollope—and the innermost “apple” of Rilke’s eye for dinge to describe to you the events and accouterments of the last week. —Briefly, I have been landed by the Rodman generosity under one of the strangest roofs in the universe (including Saturn, Uranus, Mars, Neptune, Pluto and Jupiter). And I have done more concentrated “desk work” than, I am sure, 18 other bureaucrats in that same time. —I have had a few side flashes at Washington, the Nation’s Capital—of the Capitol—I see it out of my front window (I have a suite of offices, in case you care!) any time I please. Head on. Flight of steps and dome (which is really impressive, even though a work of cast-iron of the early 19th century) —complete.

A strange angel hovered over my birth. During those eight long years in Washington Heights, I thought the magic influence which wafted me in 1917 into a concrete Government flat in the wilds of Panama had tapered off. But O no! Once the Subject of Queer Events and Places, always such a subject. I shouldn’t surprise myself if I spent my old age in 1.) The Kremlin or 2.) a grass hut in Malaya.


At the end of her one-year appointment, Bogan wrote to William Maxwell:

Now that the time draws near that I shall leave…I am feeling rather warmly toward Washington, Georgetown, the L. of C…The Library machinery still baffles me; but I have leaned over backwards to be cool and detached and cheerful and obliging. As a matter of fact, it has all been v., v. pleasant, and I have learned a lot; and the Library has learned a few things, too. Such as the fact that R. M. Rilke is a man, not a woman, and writes in German, not Italian.


Louise Bogan (August 11, 1897 - February 4, 1970) served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1945 - 46, the first woman appointed to the position. She is the author of six collections of poetry, including the highly influential The Blue Estuaries (1968). Bogan also published prose, including Journey Around My Room (1980), and translations of such poets as Ernst Junger, Jules Renard, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Bogan's honors include awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy of American Poets, and the Guggenheim Foundation.