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Henry Rago 1915-1969
Poet and Professor

POET HERO:
HENRY RAGO
by Christina Rago


Henry Rago was a poet and editor of Poetry Magazine for 14 years from 1955-1969. He was also a Professor of Theology and Literature at the University of Chicago, jointly in the Divinity School and in the New Collegiate Division, since 1967. His seminars and research explored the relations between poetry and religion, among other interdisciplinary concerns. He was also Co-chairman of the new program in the History and Philosophy of Religion in the New Collegiate Division.

He. died at age 53 on May 26, 1969 in Chicago. Rago had, just that year, resigned his editorship at Poetry to take a year of lecturing and writing on a grant from the Ford Foundation to be followed by a full time position at the University of Chicago. He was at work on a book titled The Vocation of Poetry.

His poems were widely published in magazines and newspapers during his lifetime, beginning at age 16 in Poetry Magazine. His book of poems, A Sky of Late Summer, was published by Macmillan in 1963.

Stanley Kunitz wrote: Henry Rago's special gift permits him to strike for the absolute as an act of meditation, and yet to remain wakeful for the surprises of poetry. The best of his poems, of which The Knowledge of Light is representative, reach an astonishing depth of simplicity. They achieve a kind of claritas, the splendor of the true.

Hayden Carruth writes: These are rare and beautiful poems by an exceedingly rare poet. I mean that Henry Rago, who began with a surpassing lyrical talent and a mind as quick as a fish, has stood off the blandishments of his own abilities; which is a more particular way of saying that he has resisted the temptations of poetry. His poems are natural, sure and right, without one surrender to the siren of virtuosity. Hence they have a grace and purity, which come only from true things, and a trueness, which comes only to tempered things. In these splendid, almost unbelievable poems, Rago brings back the crystalline, Arielesque quality that poets forty years ago considered indispensable compression without density, harmony without artifice. I find these poems continually rewarding.

He has recorded poems for the archives of the Library of Congress and for the Lamont Library at Harvard among the many places throughout the world he lectured on literature and philosophy, and read his poems.

The Distances
Henry Rago

This house, pitched now
The dark wide stretch
Of plains and ocean
To these hills over
The night-filled river,
Billows with night,
Swells with the rooms
Of sleeping children, pulls
Slowly from this bed,
Slowly returns, pulls and holds,
Is held where we
Lock all distances!

Ah, how the distances
Spiral from that
Secrecy:
Room,
Rooms, roof
Spun to the huge
Midnight, and into
The rings and rings of stars.

From A Sky of Late Summer, 1963 The Macmillan Company

Copyright 1963 by Henry Rago. All rights reserved.



Written by Christina Rago
Last changed on: 3/2/2009 7:11:46 AM

Poetry Foundation

Lilly Library Manuscript Collections has archives of Henry Rago's letters and Poems in their library. Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call(812) 855-2452

 

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