Into Light and Voice

By Susan Gagnon
Presented at The Nordica Celebration of Women in the Arts, Nordica Auditorium at the University of Maine at Farmington, Farmington, Maine

Louise Bogan photo

Louise Bogan

Epitaph for a Romantic Woman

by Louise Bogan

She has attained the permanence

She dreamed of, where old stones lie sunning.

Untended stalks blow over her

Even and swift, like young men running.

Always in the heart she loved

Others had lived, -- she heard their laughter.

She lies where none has lain before,

Where certainly none will follow after.

I had never heard a whisper of American Poet, Louise Boganís writings while growing up in the Androscoggin River Valley. In 1970, I read her tiny obituary in the Livermore Falls Advertiser, intrigued by the sheer fact of an acclaimed women poet, who had been born in our region. I kept the sacred clipping in my wallet for nearly a decade, endeared by the simple words, "born in Livermore Falls, Maine".

Ms. Bogan, whose literary talents have often been compared to those of Emily Dickinson, was the granddaughter of a Sea Captain, who emigrated from Ireland to Portland, Maine, before the potato famine of the 1840's. He and his wife had twelve children, building a home on Captainís Hill in Portland. Their eldest, Daniel Bogan, was Louise Boganís father, who in 1882 married Mary Murphy Shields. By 1897, Daniel Bogan a paper mill employee worked his way up to mill superintendent. Daniel and Mary Bogan were residing south of here, in the gritty paper mill village of Livermore Falls. Less than a 25 minute drive away. Less than a mile from my childhood home.

According to author, Elizabeth Frank, who wrote the book, Louise Bogan, A Portrait, Ms. Bogan was born on August 11, 1897, on Munsey Avenue, situated on a bank above the mill, in the paper mill-owned superintendentís house. Bogan remembered only from photographs, that the home had a cupola and Victorian gingerbread eaves.

In August 1897, the same year Ms. Bogan was born, in the bordering village of Chisholm, my great-grandparents, Charles Ouellette and Claudia Soucy Ouellette, then the parents of three young children, purchased a tiny parcel of land on Main Street, later building their modest home burrowed near rocky ledges, across from the Otis Paper Mill.

Ms. Bogan resided with her family in Livermore Falls until she was four years old. During this time period, she was exposed to the adulterous wanderings of her mother, something which haunted Ms. Bogan throughout her lifetime. The family moved in 1901 to Milton, New Hampshire, the beginning of numerous relocations, from one New England paper mill community to another. Boganís motherís displeasure for paper mill towns and her husband, prompted her to travel to the west coast from 1906-1907. In her motherís absence, Bogan was boarded at St. Maryís Convent in Manchester, New Hampshire. In adolescence she attended the Boston Girlís Latin School, writing poetry by the age of fourteen. Many of her poems appeared in Jabberwock, the schoolís magazine. Ms. Bogan mastered the languages of Latin, Greek and French, later attending Boston University. During Ms. Bogan literary career she was the author of numerous published poetry and books. Ms. Bogan resided in New York City most of her adult life and was poetry editor and critic for The New Yorker from 1931 to 1970.

* While Boganís voice continued on, I lived among the unsung voices of Franklin County.

I grew up in the paper mill village of Chisholm, wedged between the winding Androscoggin River Valley and cresting hilltops. My French-Canadian ancestors migrated from the St. Lawrence River valley and the rugged coastlines of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island during the 1890's and after. Huddled together in budding tenement buildings, the riverís valley drew other ethnic minorities from Ireland, Italy, Poland and Czechoslovakia, seeking employment in the paper industry, railroads and granite quarries. With them they brought their new languages, customs, foods and Roman Catholic faith; which was met with suspicion and bias, splintering the new immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon Protestant settlers, across the town lines of Livermore Falls.

Many residing in the river valley were shackled by harsh economic restraints: lack of education, language barriers and cultural oppression. Rare were the extensive educational opportunities offered to Ms. Bogan.

For me, the melodies of the river valley were the heralding of the St. Rose of Lima Church bells, chiming the morning Mass, along with the howling whistle of the Otis Paper Mill announcing shift changes. Our fathers, uncles, and Pepereís crossed daily over the railroad tracks, to work in the paper millís yard, as the harsh winds blew off the Androscoggin River; while others labored inside the grueling paper mill, with drenching steam, heat and constant clamoring machinery.

I have entered a new gateway--as an UMF Creative Writing Major, for the first time I am attending college full time. Growing up as a fourth-generation Franco-American woman, I often felt crippled by the dual sword of languages. Rituals of reciting Catechism with military precision, along with punitive rules while attending parochial school, curdled my young spirit and stunted my learning abilities. Surrounded by multi-generation adults speaking fragmented, broken English, our familyís native French tongue was spoken with fury and passion; a language I never learned to conquer. Slowly, I crept into another world. The languages of limbo and shame...

I have been searching for Louise Boganís home. Reference material states that Ms. Bogan was born on Munsey Avenue. I have wondered which home was her birthplace, contacting numerous residents who have never heard of Ms. Bogan, nor her home. I have been unable to obtain her birth certificate. I have, however, recovered a copy of Ms. Boganís baptism record from the St. Rose of Lima Church... where I too, was baptized.

Ms. Bogan was born in a community where the paper mill pumps out daily, black soot swarming above and settling on everything and anyone in itís way. Ms. Bogan once lived amongst the shadows of the river valley, perched on the crest of Munsey Avenue; like the native Maine Chickadee her voice was never heard over the paper millís own melodies.

May her literary achievements and historic significance... be brought into light and voice.

Ms. Bogan once wrote, "The accent and character of oneís native region, live in the mind and heart just as oneís speech."


By Louise Bogan

Beautiful, my delight,

Pass, as we pass the wave.

Pass, as the mottled night

Leaves what it cannot save,

Scattering dark and bright.

Beautiful, pass and be

Less than the guiltless shade

To which our vows were said;

Less than the sound of the oar

To which our vows were made, -

Less than the sound of its blade

Dipping the stream once more.

More information:
Louise Bogan - The Academy of American Poets

Early Twentieth Century - Louise Bogan (1897-1970)

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