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The New International, April 1936


Harry Roskolenkier

Soaring Aloft


From New International, Vol. 3 No. 2, April 1936, p. 64.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Theory of Flight
by Muriel Rukeyser
Yale University Press: 86 pp.

Hart Crane in his endeavor to forge a symbol out of the American Soil, selected as his metaphysical “items” the famed windjammer, Cutty Sark, the Bridge, the Tunnel, and a sailor song, the Rose of Stamboul, all these items having a connecting link with tradition, a common sequence and continuity, picking up the cultural lag from Melville and Whitman: the sea and the soil. Muriel Rukeyser, accepting this continuity, sails aloft from the Cutty Sark of Crane, to a mightier symbol, that of the clear air and the Wright brothers who created the flying machine, a swifter and more complex symbol, based on greater hazards and more dangerous than the whaling ships of Melville. In this sense of continuity, like Sandburg and for the moment MacLeish an acceptance is granted. Language like events and conditions are altered and renewed from a common source: the basic source of cultural life, the proletariat. Not that the proletariat itself creates this culture, it does not, but it is the soil from which this culture takes its roots and blooms.

Like Auden, Rukeyser, bids farewell to a heritage which, while it cannot be erased from the cells of memory, nevertheless must be cut off:

“I have left forever house and maternal river given up sitting in that private tomb, quitted that land, that house, that velvet room. Frontiers admitted me to a growing country I carry the proofs of my birth and my mind’s reasons but reckon with their struggle and their seasons.”

MacKnight Black in his book of poems, Machinery, spoke as lovingly, and as cryptically of gears and pistons as Rukeyser does of all the elements in her Theory of Flight, the land below, people walking, the strike down there, death, night flight, etc. Yet a greater sense of beauty comes from her personal poems; then her lyrical images burst out – and are not held in check by artificial aesthetic tapes. In her sweep from the loftiness of the Plane, the focus is sometimes a series of blurrs, the appraisals of the earth below – too much of a blot. In her poem, The Tunnel, the major portion of which is extremely beautiful, one runs across such bad lines, as, “The street is long, with a sprinkling of ashcans; panhandlers begin to forage among banana-peels and cardboard boxes”. I am sure this does not heighten the aesthetic, social or imagistic experience of the reader: it is at best a bastardized series of words.

In an effort to simplify the complexities of style, to break down the mediums, Rukeyser, like Auden and the English group, have happened on more complex and more elaborate planes of intellectual flight. Were the would-be readers trained (the masses) in the reading and writing of poetry at this present date – there would be no sense in being critical. But those who are writing: for the “revolution” should take into consideration that their audience is not or should not be entirely composed of professional aestheticians or the literary portion of the revolutionary movement they might even consider the much talked of masses.

Theory of Flight, a bit posed in the air here and there, is nevertheless a powerful roaring plane, at times swooping and taking dives, an occasional missing in the feed, but on the whole fit for a transcontinental journey if enough gas is taken along. Unlike the majority of the New Masses poets, Rukeyser has more than sincerity to guide her, more than emotion alone, but ideas and the capacity to write a long and sustained poem.

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