Today’s poem comes from a poet who has long interested me—one whose reputation also diminished over the years, at least in part as a result of her decision to abandon poetry around age 40. The poet is Laura Riding or Laura Riding Jackson.
Laura Riding was a pen name—she was born Laura Reichenthal in New York in 1901 to Austrian Jewish immigrant parents. She began publishing her poetry in the 1920s, especially in Allen Tate’s magazine The Fugitive, & after divorcing her first husband, moved to England at the invitation of poet Robert Graves & painter Nancy Nicholson, who were married at the time.
Riding lived with the couple in a ménage à trois, but the the Graves-Nicholson marriage broke down, & Graves & Riding continued an affair that continued thru much of the 30s. Their collaboration was creatively fruitful: in addition to both Graves & Riding producing noteworthy poetry during this time, they also co-authored several works of influential literary criticism , particularly A Survey of Modernist Poetry & A Pamphlet Against Anthologies. There is also some controversy about Riding’s role in Graves’ work The White Goddess—itself controversial on a number of fronts since its first publication. Riding suggested that Graves plagerized the ideas for the work from her 1930s work, The Word 'Woman.' Graves’ supporters vehmently deny this, & one point they make does contain some self-evident truth: from the time of Sir James Frazer on, there was a passion for archaic religious ritual amongst the British literati, & looked at in the most general terms, there was a lot of writing done during this period about goddess worship. On the other hand, since they were close collaborators, it would be naïve to suppose that Riding’s work didn’t at least have a significant influence on Graves.
Riding’s departure from poetry was followed by scholarship in languistic theory in collaboration with her husband Schuyler Jackson. As far as poetry goes, this is what Laura Riding Jackson wrote in her Preface to Norton’s 1970 Selected Poems: In Five Sets:
[W]hat compatibility can there be between the creed offering hope of a way of speaking beyond the ordinary, touching perfection, a complex perfection associable with nothing less complex than truth, and the craft tying the hope to verbal rituals that court sensuosity as if it were the judge of truth?
“The Wind Suffers” is one of Riding’s best-known poems, but she is a poet whose work is really worth further examination.
The Wind Suffers
The wind suffers of blowing,
The sea suffers of water,
And fire suffers of burning,
And I of a living name.
As stone suffers of stoniness,
As light of its shiningness,
As birds of their wingedness,
So I of my whoness.
And what the cure of all this?
What the not and not suffering?
What the better and later of this?
What the more me of me?
How for the pain-world to be
More world and no pain?
How for the faithful rain to fall
More wet and more dry?
How for the wilful blood to run
More salt-red and sweet-white?
And how for me in my actualness
To more shriek and more smile?
By no other miracles,
By the same knowing poison,
By an improved anguish,
By my further dying.