Laura Riding

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Laura Riding (January 16, 1901September 2, 1991) was a controversial modernist American poet and literary critic, associated initially with the Fugitives and later with Robert Graves. She was born Laura Reichenthal, and her married names were Laura Riding Gottschalk and Laura (Riding) Jackson.


  • Pseudo-modernists pursue individual style because they know they cannot make a name without it; but if they had lived in the eighteenth century their sole object would have been to write correctly, to conform to the manner of the period. In practice, their conforming individualism means an imitation, studiously concealed, of the eccentricities of poems which really are individual.
    • Laura Riding and Robert Graves from A Survey of Modernist Poetry (London: Heinemann, 1927)
  • When modernist poetry, or what not so long ago passed for modernist poetry, can reach the stage where the following piece by Mr. Ezra Pound is seriously offered as a poem, there is some justification for the plain reader and orthodox critic who shrinks from anything that may be labelled 'modernist' either in terms of condemnation or approbation.... Better he thinks, that ten authentic poets should be left for posterity to discover than one charlatan should be allowed to steal into the Temple of Fame.
    • Laura Riding and Robert Graves from A Survey of Modernist Poetry (London: Heinemann, 1927)
  • I feel an intense intimacy with those who have this loathing interest in me. Further than this, I know what they mean, I sympathize with them, I understand them. There should be a name (as poetic as love) for this relationship between loather and loathed; it is of the closest and more full of passion than incest.
    • "How it came about?" from Anarchism Is not Enough (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928)
  • Because most people are not sufficiently employed in themselves, they run about loose, hungering for employment, and satisfy themselves in various supererogatory occupations. The easiest of these occupations, which have all to do with making things already made, is the making of people: it is called the art of friendship.
    • "The Myth" from Anarchism Is not Enough (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928)
  • Shakespeare alternated between musical surrenders to social prestige and magnificent fits of poetic remorse.
    • "Poetry and Music" from Anarchism Is not Enough (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928)
  • All literature is written by the old to teach the young how to express themselves so that they in turn may write literature to teach the old how to express themselves. All literature is written by mentally precocious adolescents and by mentally precocious senescents.
    • "All Literature", from Anarchism Is not Enough (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928)
  • We live on the circumference of a hollow circle. We draw the circumference, like spiders, out of ourselves: it is all criticism of criticism.
    • "The Corpus", from Anarchism Is not Enough (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928)
  • The child begins with crude sex alone. It innocently indulges itself in sensual pleasures. It loves kissing and to be kissed, stroking and to be stroked, fondly contemplating its excretions. The civilized society into which it is born magnifies the importance of these insignificant local sensations, gives them intellectual depth. It creates a handsome receptacle, love, to contain the humours of this unnaturally enlarged instinct.
    • "The Damned Thing", from Anarchism Is not Enough (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928)
  • Woman is the symbol to man of the uncleanness of bodily existence, of which he purifies himself by putting her to noble uses. She thus has for him a double, contradictory significance; she is the subject of his bawdry and the subject of his romance.
    • "The Damned Thing", from Anarchism Is not Enough (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928)
  • Polygamy and polyandry distribute the frightening physical solidarity of monogamy. Monogamous couples are always hungry for company: to dilute sex.
    • "The Damned Thing", from Anarchism Is not Enough (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928)
  • The anthology meets with two different kinds of reactions in living poets. They will either write toward the anthology or away from it. Anti-anthology poets often overreach themselves, inflicting protective distortions on their work - as parents in old Central Europe often deliberately maimed their sons to save them from compulsory military service.
    • Laura Riding and Robert Graves, from A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (Doubleday, 1928)
  • A new type of poem has been evolved and popularized by the demands of the anthology-reading public. It is called 'the perfect modern lyric.' Like the best-seller novel, it is usually achieved in the dark; but certain critical regulations can be made for it. It must be fairly regular in form and easily memorized, it must be a new combination of absolutely warn-out material, it must have a certain unhealthy vigour or languor, and it must start off engagingly with a simple sentimental statement. Somewhere a daring pseudo-poetical image must be included...
    • Laura Riding and Robert Graves from A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (London: Doubleday, 1928)
  • Daisy was a consciously happy young woman without any of the usual endowments that make for conscious happiness, money apart. She was not pretty, she was not clever, she had no friends, no talents, nor even an imagination to make her think she was happy when she was really miserable. As she was never miserable, she had no need of an imagination.
    • "Daisy and Venison" from Progress of Stories (Deya, Majorca: Seizin Press; London, Constable, 1935)
  • She [Venison] had never travelled and so could invent all kinds of strange places without being limited, as travelled people are, by knowledge of certain places only.
    • "Daisy and Venison" from Progress of Stories (Deya, Majorca: Seizin Press; London, Constable, 1935)
  • Her one serious failing was that she could not write above love. She could not write a story with more than one important character in it, whom she thought of for the moment as herself; with love there had to be at least two important characters.
    • "Daisy and Venison" from Progress of Stories (Deya, Majorca: Seizin Press; London, Constable, 1935)
  • The terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ must be understood as representing no more primitive opposition of sex to sex; but as defining two worlds of differing quality, in either of which men and women may jointly move and live.
    • "A Personal Letter, With a Request for a Reply", January 1937
  • If I had my choice to make again - and again and again - it would be Paris, and Paris, and still Paris. And not because I thought him 'the right man', but because I felt him to be my life's task - even if I knew beforehand that this task was doomed to failure. It isn't patience and sweetness of character that does it, but love, and obstinacy - not minding how it turns out. When a woman in love thinks a lot about her future happiness, you can be sure she's not very much in love.
    • Helen in A Trojan Ending (London: Constable, 1937)
  • I think you're right about the difference between the Trojan mind and the Greek mind: the Greeks live in their imaginations while the Trojans always try to see things as they really are. And with some things they do get hold of the truth, and with some things they don't. But, where they don't, they won't have substitutes. That's why their world-outlook is so much smaller than ours. It's concentrated in a few certainties which are far ahead of anything we'll arrive at, but when you have these you feel that the rest is a blank and long to be back in the bigger world again, where there's space and variety and perplexity.
    • Helen in A Trojan Ending (London: Constable, 1937)
  • You know the story of the famous seer Phineus whom the Argonauts consulted when they stopped in Salmydessos in Thrace on their way to Colchis to get the golden fleece. He was blind, but not entirely blind - he could see just enough to see that he could not see. And the little flickering spots of light that forced themselves on him were wind-harpies trying to steal from him his prophetic power. So he would beg everyone to make him blind, to rid him of the harpies. But people laughed at him because, so far as they could tell, he was as blind as any man needed to be. Only Hercules understood, because his spirit extended into the divine shadows. Only Hercules had the courage to make the blind Phineus blind.
    • Cassandra in A Trojan Ending (London: Constable, 1937)
  • What second love could she [Olympias] make out of her ruined first love? The second love that most women make out of their first love for husbands grows from a mutual and tacit sadness in both husband and wife that he is only in rare moments the man both would like him to be.
    • Lives of Wives (London: Cassell, 1939)
  • Every woman must live by some sense of victory over disappointments, and Olympias was not the sort of woman to find compensation in her own powers of self-control and endurance.
    • Lives of Wives (London: Cassell, 1939)
  • But she [Virginia Woolf] is impotently distant from an understanding of the proper relations between literature and society, because she has no clear sense of the functions of literature. She sees writers as individual 'artists' working in mysterious privacy - which from time to time society rudely invades. Her writer, indeed, has all the characteristics of traditional 'femininity' - with society as the big strong male who should protect and cherish his literary womenfolk, but does not. She might - for all the application of her complaint to the relations between society and literature - be talking of the relations between husbands and wives.
    • Laura Riding and Harry Kemp from The Left Heresy in Literature and Life (London: Methuen, 1939)
  • ...poets are sensitive to the challenge 'What is the moral justification of poetry?' because they are conscious of the intrinsic goodness of poetry. Goody-goody humanitarian causes draw them easily into membership by making them wince at the notion of all the injustices prevalent in the world of physical consciousness. Let it be declared as clearly as possible that the goodness of poetry is not moral goodness, the goodness of temporal action, but the goodness of thought, the loving exercise of the will in the pursuit of truth.
    • Laura Riding and Robert Graves from "Poetry and Politics", reprinted in The Common Asphodel (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1949)
  • Politics have always covered two distinct kinds of problems: problems of administrative routine, and those that may be called 'questions of the moment.'... A question of the moment is, indeed, a substitute for some notion, such as the idea of God, or hereditary monarchy, or national glory, that has hitherto acted as a symbol of human co-ordination. It provides no new positive certainty to replace the discredited certainty, but is what the name implies: the raising of a question which the old certainty no longer answers.
    • Laura Riding and Robert Graves from "Poetry and Politics", reprinted in The Common Asphodel (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1949)
  • Euripides seems to have felt that the dignified perfection of Sophocles could be challenged only by novelty and irresponsibility. The religious conditions of the Dionysian festival kept him within certain bounds... But within the imposed limits Euripides was as profane as he dared to be, making melodrama of the divine realities which his predecessors accepted religiously, using the stage merely as a convenience for popularizing his own eccentric values.
    • Laura Riding and Robert Graves from "Poetic Drama", reprinted in The Common Asphodel (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1949)
  • 'God' is the name given to the most ‘important’ human idea. In English, as in other languages, the original sense of the word is obscure. But the character of the name is the same in all languages: it is a question. 'God' is the question 'Is there something more important than, something besides, man?'
    • "The Idea of God" from Essays from Epilogue (Manchester: Carcanet, 2001)
  • I would then say that there are two kinds of feeling. The first is to feel in the sense of concentrating your emotions on something immediately available for your understanding: you make your understanding out of the emotions you have about it. The second is to feel in the sense of being affected without trying to understand: something is felt, you do not know what, and it is more important to feel it than to try to understand it, since once you try to understand it you no longer feel it.
    • "The Idea of God" from Essays from Epilogue (Manchester: Carcanet, 2001)
  • Women from earliest times have been used as conveniences of communication with unseen, inaccessible powers, but always in the sense that such exposing of self to dangerous mysteries, such destruction of the understanding as was required to become the slave of unseen powers, did not matter because the communicant was only a woman, in herself an undetermined cipher – a nothing.
    • "The Idea of God" from Essays from Epilogue (Manchester: Carcanet, 2001)
  • Anger is precious because it is an immediate, undeniable clue to what our minds (so much more cautious in rejection and resistance than our bodies) will not tolerate.
    • "In Defence of Anger" from Essays from Epilogue (Manchester: Carcanet, 2001)
  • The object of all religious activity is to mingle the human and the non-human, and the lower gods represent that which is cast back to the human from the non-human – human gods merely, practice-gods who embody the errors which man makes in first conceiving the non-human.
    • "The Bull-Fight" from Essays from Epilogue (Manchester: Carcanet, 2001)
  • Metaphor... is, as a common feature of linguistic practice, an incidental expediency, a homely administering of first-aid by mother-wit to jams or halts in expression suddenly confronting speakers, with no respectable linguistic solution immediately in sight.
    • "The Matter of Metaphor" in Rational Meaning and Supplementary Essays (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997).
  • The new "ambiguity" means, in a way adjudged favorable to literary, poetic, intellectually and psychologically well-devised and praiseworthily executed linguistic performance, uncertainty of meaning, or difficulty for the interpreter in identifying just what the meaning in question is: it means the old meanings of ambiguity with a difference. It means uncertainty of meaning (of a word or combination of words) purposefully incorporated in a literary composition for the attainment of the utmost possible variety of meaning-play compressible within the verbal limits of the composition.
    • "On Ambiguity" in Rational Meaning and Supplementary Essays (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1997).
  • Much of the magical effect that poetry gives of rendering everything it touches pellucid comes from the necessity of compression that it imposes. The impossibility of pausing in poetry as long as may be needed to make sense clear causes many a set of words actually deficient in linguistic workmanship to pass for an eloquent brevity.
    • "The Promise of Words" in London Review of Books, Vol. 17, No. 17, p.23
  • The rhythmic pattern of the poem, which forces continuity of attention – incites a pleasurable compulsion to ‘follow’ – is either a tried metrical suasion-contrivance or a specially invented pattern of physical insistences, equally, if not more, binding in its effect on the reader. From a straight linguistic point of view, there is room for wonder if there is not latent vice in this environment in which pleasurable physically-compelled responses, produced by incidents of poetic utterance, are identified with the Good.
    • "The Promise of Words" in London Review of Books, Vol. 17, No. 17, p.23

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