“My mother has pneumonia,” from What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan, 1920-1970 (1973)


To Rolfe Humphries
December 23, 1936

Dear Rolfe:

My mother has pneumonia, and is, I think, dying. After a long struggle with her pride, I managed, this morning, to get her into St. Luke’s. — How I feel, with my pride, I don’t think you can imagine.

What we suffer, what we endure, what we muff, what we kill, what we miss, what we are guilty of, is done by us, as individuals, in private. — I wanted to kill a few interns this morning, and I shall want to kill some nurses tonight, and I know that it is a lousy system that keeps the poor, indigent old from dying as they should. But I still hate your way of doing things. To hell with the crowd. To hell with the meetings, and the public speeches. Life and death occur, as they must, but they are all bound up with love and hatred, in the individual bosom, and it is a sin and a shame to try to organize or dictate them.

Thank you for the poem. I shan’t ever see you again, I suppose,


To Morton Dauwen Zabel
December 23, 1936

Dear Morton:

The [picture of]Fury came intact, and it is so beautiful that I cried. — I would have written you before this, but my mother took sick the night before last, and today I managed to persuade her to go to the hospital, and it is pneumonia.

If you could have seen the fight she put up, right to the last. But now she is a poor dying woman. I wish I could stop remembering her in her pride and beauty — in her arrogance, that I had to fight so — and now I feel it would have been better if I hadn’t fought at all. Because under it all was so much love, and I had to fight that too.

I’ll write soon, after this is over — after I stop feeling that Lucifer should have won. The damned, niggardly, carroty, begrudging world!


To Morton Dauwen Zabel
December 27, 1936

Dear Morton:

My mother died yesterday afternoon. — In death she looks terribly scornful and proud, but I think she loved up to the end.

All I could do, last night, was read Yeats’ later poems, on what old age is, and what it does.

Somewhere beyond the curtain
Of distorting days
Lives that lonely thing
That shone before these eyes
Targeted, trod like Spring.

Say a prayer for her. Her name is Mary.


What the Woman Lived: Selected Letters of Louise Bogan, 1920-1970, edited by Ruth Limmer
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973

Leave a Comment