Marya Zaturenska: An Introduction.

The Poems

Marya Zaturenska (1902-1982) emigrated to the United States with her parents in 1909, and in 1912 became a citizen. She was a popular poet during the early part of the century, winning the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for her collection, Cold Morning Sky. Althoug she is still regarded as a technically skilled poet her adherence to the modes and methods of the English decadent school, a movement of the late 19th and early 20th century which, "proclaimed the superiority of art over nature and often found the greatest beauty in dying things" eventually "earned her a reputation as an 'old-fashioned' writer" and relegated her work to the status of "quaint epiphanies" (Contemporary Authors Online).

Zaturenska is ignored in contemporary study of poetry, but her work, in addition to its aesthetic value, is noteworthy for the reminder it presents, that, despite the Great Depression and social upheaval, life in the 1930s continued to function on a multitude of diverse planes, not all of which were directly engaged with the politics of the decade. As Lawrence Levine puts it:

One of the more elusive and difficuly historical truths is that even in the midst of disaster life goes on and human beings find way not merely of adapting to the forces that buffet them but often of rising above their circumstances and participating in the shaping of their lives. (Levine 15)
The popularity of Zaturenska's poetry reminds us that, despite the Depression, many people retained not only the means, but the desire as well, to read poetry for pleasure. Yet, we may also consider that, in addition to her talent, the mode in which Zaturenska chose to write contributed to her popularity. The sense of darkness and decay expressed in her use of the decadent methods would seem to speak to a people embroiled in what seemed to be the last days of the American experiment.

Consider Zaturenska's "Lullaby" which begins:

Ruin falls on blackening skies
And disaster lies in wait
For the heart and for the state;
Loud the voices in the street
Shout unhealing remedies.
There is an obvious contemporaneity in these words. The impending sense of universal ruin serves as something of a historical conflation of the attitude of Depression America with a late-Victorian malaise. Though many regard her affiliation with the decadants as an anachronism, it is apparent that the mode was conducive not only to an expression of Zaturenska's skills but to the mood of her time as well.

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