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Swedenborg (from “Tradition”)

Well he saw man created according
to the motion of the elements. He located
the soul: in the blood. Retired
at last––to a house where he paid
window-tax (for increasing the light!).
Lived simply. Gardened. Saw visions.

Nothing for supper but tea.
Now he saw the soul from his “Pray,
what is matter” leave for the touchy
––heavens!––blue rose kind of thing.
Strange––he did grow a blue rose,
you know.


I lost you to water, summer
when the young girls swim,
to the hot shore
to little peet-tweet-
               pert girls.

Now it’s cold your bright knock
––Orion’s with his dog after him––
at my door, boy
on a winter
                      wave ride.


I married

in the world’s black night
for warmth
                      if not repose.
                      At the close––


I hid with him
from the long range guns.
                    We lay leg
                     in the cupboard, head

in closet.

A slit of light
at no bird dawn––
                    I thought
he drank

too much.
I say

                    I married
                    and lived unburied.

I thought––


You see here 
the influence
of inference

Moon on rippled 

“Except as
and unless”


Your erudition
the elegant flower
of which

my blue chicory
at scrub end

of ditch




a still state hard
as sard

then again whisper-talk
preserved in chalk

At last no (TV) gun
no more coats than one

no hair lightener
Sweethearts of the whiter



Why can’t I be happy
in my sorrow

my drinking man

my quiet


And what you liked
or did––
no matter
once the moon
dipped down
and fish rose
from under


Cleaned all surfaces
and behind all solids
and righted leaning things

Considered then, becurtained
the metaphysics
of flight from housecleanings


Young in Fall I said: the birds
are at their highest thoughts
of leaving

Middle life said nothing––
to a livelihood

Old age––a high gabbling gathering
before goodbye
of all we know

—Lorine Niedecker

Gillian Conoley reads and discusses Lorine Niedecker’s “Swedenborg” (from “Tradition”)

Transcription of Commentary

Lorine Niedecker was born on May 12, 1903, and died on December 31, 1970. She lived most of her life in a rural landscape on Black Hawk Island near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. It wouldn’t be out of line to say that she had two homes in her life: the one by water (“The Brontës had their moors, I have my marshes,” she once wrote), and the avant-garde poetry scene birthed in 1931 in the Objectivist issue of Poetry magazine, which she read. Almost immediately thereafter Niedecker began a correspondence with Louis Zukofsky that was to last the rest of her life. At this point in her writing she veered away from earlier influences of the Imagists and Surrealists. She began sending her work to Poetry, where it was accepted. Eventually she became a central member of the Objectivists, the only female poet in the group.

Letters were a crucial companion, and no doubt sustaining to her art, and to the art of those she wrote. Among her epistolary friends were Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Cid Corman, and Clayton Eshelman.

She wrote ground-breaking work, addressing subject matters of gender, work, sexual politics, social politics, marriage, and domesticity long before others. She developed a lyric that was both clear and complicated, ever-alive to eccentricities and shifts of American vernacular, sounding vowels and consonants alongside the intricate movements of the natural world. She never quite left Surrealism in that there was an ever-abiding interest in the subconscious. While her experimentation was cosmopolitan, and her range of reference global and century-spanning, her idiom was of the folk.

I’ll read an excerpt from her poem “Tradition,” written in 1965. This section of the poem is subtitled “Swedenborg,” referring to the 18th century Swedish scientist, philosopher and mystic.

Lorine Niedecker, “Swedenborg (from “Tradition”)” from Collected Works. Copyright © 2004 by Lorine Niedecker.  University of California Press.

Reprinted by permission of Bob Arnold, literary executor.

Related Resources

Gillian Conoley

Gillian Conoley

Read “The Long Marriage” by Gillian Conoley

Gillian Conoley (1955- ) was born in Taylor, Texas. She attended Southern Methodist University and earned her MFA in creative writing the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has written several poetry collections, including Peace (2014), Profane Halo (2005), and Tall Stranger (1991), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her other honors include the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize, a Fund for Poetry Award, and the Academy of American Poets Award, and several Pushcart Prize publications. She is currently a professor and poet-in-residence at Sonoma State University. Photo credit: Domenic Stansberry.

Lorine Niedecker

Lorine Niedecker

Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970) was born in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, where she lived for most of her life in isolation from much of the writing community. She wrote often about her natural surroundings and abstract concepts, and was the only female writer associated with the Objectivist poets. Her works of poetry include North Central (1968), My Friend Tree (1961), New Goose (1946), and many others, as well as three volumes that were published posthumously. Photo courtesy of Bob Arnold, literary executor, and Hoard Historical Museum.