The White Dress

Marya Zaturenska (1902-1982)

Imperceptively the world became haunted by her white dress.
Walking in forest or garden, he would start to see,
Her flying form; sudden, swift, brief as a caress
The flash of her white dress against a darkening tree.

And with forced unconcern, withheld desire, and pain
He beheld her at night; and when sleepless in his bed,
Her light footfalls seemed loud as cymbals; deep as his disdain,
Her whiteness entered his heart, flowed through from feet to head.

Or it was her face at a window, her swift knock at the door,
Then she appeared in her white dress, her face white as her gown;
Like snow in midsummer she came and left the rich day poor;
And the sun chilled and grew higher, remote, and the moon slipped down.

So the years passed; more fierce in pursuit her image grew;
She became the dream abjured, the ill uncured, the deed undone,
The life one never lived, the answer one never knew,
Till the white shadow swayed the moon, stayed the expiring sun.

Until at his life's end, the shadow of the white face, the white dress
Became his inmost thought, his private wound, the word unspoken,
All that he cherished in failure, all that had failed his success;
She became the crystal orb, half-seen, untouched, unbroken.

There on his death bed, kneeling at the bed's foot, he trembling saw,
The image of the Mother-Goddess, enormous, archaic, cruel,
Overpowering the universe, creating her own inexorable law,
Molded of stone, but her fire and ice flooded the room like a pool.

And she was the shadow in the white dress, no longer slight and flying,
But solid as death. Her cold, firm, downward look,
Brought close to the dissolving mind the marvellous act of dying,
And on her lap, the clasped, closed, iron book.

Marya Zaturenska, Lyric Poet Received Pulitzer Prize in '38.

Marya Zaturenska, an American lyric poet who received the Pulitzer Prize in 1938, died of heart failure Tuesday in Shelburne Falls MA where she lived. She was 80 years old.

Miss Zaturenska, who was married to Horace Gregory, the Bollingen Prize poet, wrote eight volumes of her poetry and edited six anthologies [including The Mentor Book of Religious Verse]. Her many awards included the Shelley and John Reed prizes from Poetry magazine, where her work was first published.

Mrs. Gregory was born in Kiev, Russia [sic], and came to the United States at the age of 8, living with her parents on Henry Street, near the Settlement House. While working in factories, she attended high school at night. In 1922, she received a scholarship to Valparaiso University in Indiana and, a year later, transferred to the University of Wisconsin. She graduated from the Wisconsin Library School in 1925 and was married to Mr. Gregory that year.

Her books included "Threshold and Heart"; "Cold Morning Sky,"; for which she received the Pulitzer Prize, "Collected Poems" and, her final volume, published in 1974, "The Hidden Waterfall."

In a comment about "The Hidden Waterfall," Erica Jong wrote:

"It is a joy for a member of my generation to discover the great poets of the preceding generations. Marya Zaturenska is one such discovery for me. I hope many of my contemporaries will join me in the pleasure and inspiration of her timeless work."

Several of her poems appeared on the editorial page of The New York Times and in its Book Review. One, "For the Seasons," began:

Burning with heat and cold
In April's tender weather
I let my tense hands hold
All they could gather of love.
Besides her husband, she is survived by a son, Patrick Bolten Gregory of Northampton MA; a daughter, Joanna Elizabeth Zeigler of Edinburgh, and several grandchildren.

       New York Times obituary, January 21st, 1982, page D23. [A photograph accompanied the article.]
I received a letter from Patrick Gregory dated October 30, 1999:

"I have been very busy preparing for publication my mother's diaries for the years 1938-1944.The volume will appear, along with a new selection of her poems, in the fall of 2000. The publisher is Syracuse University Press."

I believe this book has not yet been published in June 2001.

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