On December 15, 1913, Muriel Rukeyser was born in New York City. She attended Vassar College for two years and then moved back to New York where she took classes at Columbia University. After college, she worked as an editor of the Student Review and witnessed certain events which would make a serious impact on her life and poetry, including the Scottsboro trial in Alabama, the Gauley Bridge tragedy in West Virginia and the civil war in Spain.
"Muriel Rukeyser's poetry is unequalled in the twentieth-century United States in its range of reference, its generosity of vision, and its energy," writes Adrienne Rich. "She pushes us, readers, writers, and participants in the life of our time, to enlarge our sense of what poetry is about in the world, and of the place of feelings and memory in politics."
The violence and injustice she saw, in the United States and abroad, led her poetry to function as a mode of social protest. She felt a deep responsibility to comment on human issues and was particularly concerned with inequalities of sex, race and class. With her poems, she frequently documented her own emotional experiences within the context of a greater political or social event. She was a powerful visionary and her work reflects her wish for a greater world community united by love.
"She was the first poet that I knew personally," William Meredith once told the Paris Review, "I knew her when I was still an undergraduate. She was a very amazing human being and any traces of honesty in my life come from having seen how beautifully honest she was in administering her life and her poetry without any separation—you couldn't get a knife between the two things with her. The real influence was her human model of what a poet could be."
Rukeyser experimented with language and form and her wide technical range, which includes lyrical forms and the documentary narrative, is illustrated in her Collected Poems (1979). Many women poets have claimed Rukeyser's influence on their work, Anne Sexton among them. She died in New York City on February 12, 1980.
A Selected Bibliography
Theory of Flight (1935)
U.S. 1 (1938)
A Turning Wind (1939)
The Soul and Body of John Brown (1940)
Wake Island (1942)
Beast in View (1944)
The Children's Orchard (1947)
The Green Wave (1948)
Body of Waking (1958)
Waterlily Fire: Poems 1932-1962 (1962)
The Outer Banks (1967)
The Speed of Darkness (1968)
29 Poems (1970)
Breaking Open (1973)
The Gates (1976)
Out of Silence: Selected Poems (1992)
The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser (2005)
Willard Gibbs: American Genius (1942)
The Life of Poetry (1949)
One Life (1957)
The Orgy (1967)
Poetry, and Unverifiable Facts (1968)
The Traces of Thomas Harriet (1971)
The Education of a Poet (1976)
Selected Poems of Octavio Paz (1963)
Sun Stone (1963)
Selected Poems of Gunnar Ekelöf (1967)
Three Poems of Gunnar Ekelöf (1967)
Uncle Eddie's Moustache (1974)
The Middle of the Air (1945)
All the Way Home (1958)
The Colors of the Day (1961)
Come Back Paul (1955)
I Go Out (1961)