Abstract

From the late 1930s through midcentury, poets in the United States reckoned with the decline of the political Left through a practice of elegy. The debates of interwar modernism shifted toward those of a postwar culture in which Depression-era aesthetics and politics came under the pressure of anticommunism. The 1940s work of Muriel Rukeyser, turning away from an earlier documentary poetics, exemplifies her generation’s concern with the continuity between the Popular Front and World War II rather than a retreat from New Deal reform to patriotic consensus. During this understudied period in her career spanning U.S. 1 (1938) and Elegies (1949), Rukeyser enthusiastically joined the efforts of radical poets to recover the legacy of the Spanish Civil War while modifying elegy and adapting popular genres such as the soldier’s letter to the struggles of the present. In their counterintuitive figures of address, meter, and rhyme, Rukeyser’s wartime poems offer a revisionary perspective on modern elegy and, in the context of their reception by the critic M. L. Rosenthal, an alternative to the milieus and politics of late modernism in American postwar literary culture.

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