Louise Bogan, “The Frightened Man”

The Frightened Man (via Modern American Poetry)
Louise Bogan

In fear of the rich mouth
I kissed the thin,–
Even that was a trap
To snare me in.

Even she, so long
The frail, the scentless,
Is become strong,
And proves relentless.

O, forget her praise,
And how I sought her
Through a hazardous maze
By shafted water.


I have no idea if this poem has a larger context. I’ve been working on Nietzsche to try and get something on Beyond Good and Evil blogged and bleh.

There is something sexual in this poem, but I doubt it has anything to do with the way we use “shafted” currently. It looks to me like the speaker, the frightened man himself, was trying to run away from someone he found more sensually appealing (“rich mouth”). He instead went for the “thin,” the “frail,” the “scentless.”

I know – it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me either. He makes his “thin” lover sound less like Twiggy and more like a wraith or Death. The key is probably “so long” – the beloved was not real to him until she was beloved. She was as a wraith in his mind, an image of someone once nearly dead to him. The frightened man, we are learning, is one of those people who takes romantic love way too seriously.

He now loves her and finds her too strong, “relentless.” What on earth does this guy want from a relationship? In the last stanza, he almost makes himself sound like Theseus and her some version of the Minotaur/Ariadne. I confess I have no clue what’s going on. What stands out is 1) his immunity to her praise; he can’t even take a compliment from her 2) “shafted water.” This maze, fraught with dangers, has drainage. At least in my experience, when one talks about a disastrous event in life, the metaphors turn to nature. Talking about how one’s love of/memory of another dissipated into an ocean  can make perfect sense. Here, I get the distinct impression that “Theseus” has been living in his dungeon, being more of a Minotaur than he realized.

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