Isabella Gardner, Forgotten Poet

The following poem was published in the Chicago Review, Autumn 1957, when Paul Carroll was Guest Poetry Editor.
Isabella Gardner was a poet and Assistant Editor at Poetry Magazine the fifties.

For Dr. Louis Holden, 1918-1956

In the preposterous sunlight
we watched them wincingly lower you
into your formal April grave.
In strict tears they tolled the Hebrew
litanies which (though you were not pious)
had wailed in the ark of your ear
and blown in the shell of your heart
as remindingly as Shofar.
You lived your life and died your death by
love, and if on that spring day you could
have spoken from the upholstered
isolation of your coffin, you would
have taken to yourself the sorrow
of your uncountable bereaved,
as you did always, possibly saying “that
I am the reason you are grieved
and that I cannot rouse to laugh you out
of tears distresses me as dying
can no longer.” Lou it is true
that when those loved do die our crying
is made most difficult to suffer
by the unstoppable sharing
of what we imagine to have been
the die-er’s panic and despairing
in this ultimate encounter.
You spared us that pain, for knowing
your life-spirit robust past compare
we knew that you had braved your going
with your accustomed curiosity
and calm and courage. Every tear
is for ourselves, for our own loss,
the forever absence of you. Were
Death a hag (like those disheveled
ladies in asylums whom you re-
deemed to dignity through your
accepting word and touch) I do be-
live you would have lent Ma Death a
comb for her lank locks and would fear-
lessly have stroked her fleshless shoulder
saying gently “Why Mrs. Bone, my dear,
haven’t you come a little early?”
I think you would not have with-held
even from Death’s self you thou-ing
greeting once you beheld
that incurable at your elbow.
You fought to keep her waiting for
you in the hallway while she
scratched and finally pounded on your door
but once she entered and that door closed
behind her you recognised the fact
of her outrageous presence and the
courtesy and courage of your heart listened intact
to her untimely undeniable demand.

It is not easy to remember that you died.
Neither your coffin nor our tears persuade
us, yet, that you are buried. We shall confide
to you in phantasy through years of need
the flabby failure, shabby sin, and pride-
fully, the high Hungarian deed.
Our spirits shall by your quick soul be fed
until our bodies too are dead.

1 thought on “Isabella Gardner, Forgotten Poet”

  1. Not at All What One Is Used To: The Life and Times of Isabella Gardner
    Kindle Edition
    by Marian Janssen (Author) at

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