“As for the common men apart, Who sweat to keep their common breath, And have no hour for books or art– What dreams have these to hide from death!”
Sonnet to Beauty
by Lola Ridge
Show me thy way. Though I have held thy name,
that tremulously now my lips let fall,
as word too dear for traffic of the tongue,
yet I have loved thee, Beauty, beyond all.
Be with me in this hour: dread shapes of thee
apparelled in the lustre not their own –
as buzzard, gracened by the wizardry
of light, looks all but lovely as the swan,
shall not appal. In thy high company –
whereof all things are free and each wild theme
weaves in a relentless rise and fall
to resolution. I shall brokenly –
hear through the fury, through the windless dream,
heart of the terror, chiming at thy call.
Lola Ridge was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1873. The only surviving child, her and her parents immigrated to New Zealand six years later. Ridge married Peter Webster, a gold mine manager, at the age of 21, but the marriage failed quickly and she moved to Sydney and enrolled at Trinity College, studying painting and writing poetry. Ridge had some success as a writer in Australia and published several poems. Following the death of her mother in 1907, Ridge moved to San Francisco and re-invented herself. She claimed the name Lola, having been born Emily, and shaved 10 years off her age and posed as a just recently graduated fresh faced 23 year old.
Ridge cultivated the life she dreamed of living. She was politically active in socialism and the labor movement on both the east and west coasts. After several years, she moved to New York City and supported herself writing for journals, advertising copy, writing pulp fiction and occasionally posing as an artist’s model. Ridge lived her dream of being an artist, sacrificing financially in cold water flats in New York City, but she navigated a difficult, inspiring life and published her art successfully.
In 1918 her poem “The Ghetto” was published in the New Republic and it instantly opened doors for Ridge as a poet. Ridge was recognized alongside William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore and Waldo Frank as poets pushing the boundaries of modern poetry. Ridge published multiple books of poetry in the 1920’s with a definite socialist leaning. She was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935 and received numerous awards during her career. Ridge died of heart failure from complications from TB in May of 1941, in her home in Brooklyn, at the age of 67, though her close friends believed she was 57 at the time, maintaining her youthful ruse successfully, right up until the very end.
by Lola Ridge
That day in the slipping of torsos and straining flanks,
On the bloodied ooze of fields, plowed by iron,
(And the smoke, bluish near earth and gold in the sunshine,
Floating like cotton down)
Do you remember how we heard
All the Red Cross bands on Fifth Avenue,
And bugles in little home towns,
And children’s harmonicas bleating
And the harsh and terrible screaming,
And that strange vibration at the roots of us –
Desire, fierce like a song?
And after . . .
Do you remember the drollery of the wind on our faces,
and horizons reeling,
And the terror of the plain, heaving like a gaunt pelvis to
. . the sun
Over us – threshing and twanging
Torn-up roots of the song?