The Form of the Long Poem: To Find the Self She Recognized
o meet Julia Budenz was to be immediately aware of the studied engagement with which she viewed the world. She was curious, amused, and, once you got to know her, amusing. Her comportment was upright, solitary (she was often alone), and sometimes imperious, consistent with her decade in the Ursuline Convent of New Rochelle. Her poetry gave her the means to engage with the details of her adulthood, the steps and mis-steps, when she found herself immersed in convent life and then later, extricating herself from it, in which she had to explain her change of heart and mind to her superiors and herself. The pattern was repeated when she plunged into study of literature at Harvard, then became frustrated with the doctoral program, and left it before she completed her oral exams. She found herself looking for work to make ends meet, and she had begun transforming her research into the form of poetry, a project which, again, she was pressed to explain to her thesis advisors and colleagues as well as herself. Themes of immersion and escape dominate her story. All of her poetry became a part of one long poem, which is very much a rendering of the interior mind and its growth.
Her Parents and Childhood
The eldest of four daughters, Julia was born on May 23, 1934, in New York City. Her father Louis Budenz joined the Communist Party in 1935 when Julia was a year old. Living in New York City, he wrote for The Daily Worker while her mother Margaret handled cases as a social worker. Three more daughters were born: Jo (1937), Justine (1943), and Joanna (1946). The family lived in Chicago for a time in 1937, working for the Communist Party, and then, in 1945, joined the Roman Catholic Church. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen baptized Margaret and the children and Louis on October 10, 1945, at St. Patrick Cathedral. Soon after the family moved to South Bend, Indiana, where Louis taught at Notre Dame. A year later, they moved back to New York City where her father began a teaching appointment at Fordham University.
Julia's mother Margaret begins her autobiography Streets (published in 1979 after her husband's death) with these lines about growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the early twentieth century: "When I was very young I knew that I was a plain little girl and that we, in our family, were plain people" (M. Budenz 1-2). This portrait shows the family's hesitancy to draw attention to itself and it explains Margaret's commitment to help the poor. In the poetry of plain language after Robert Frost, Julia offers glimpses of her childhood, describing the place of the family in their home in New York. The mood here echoes the background of her mother, plain people in plain language, fortified by strident Anglo-Saxon rhythms:
Boots are pulled on.
The sun stops.
It is called winter.
Snow is refashioning New England.
Snow has halted New York.
Snow has glittered all day across the Plains and over the Rockies.
Along the Pacific there's nothing but precipitation.
(From Book Two, Part Five, The Diagram, "Season," page 186)
Using the image of snow that creates a commonality across states from coast to coast, Julia shows how much the Budenz family was aware of their place in a larger universe beyond the hearth and home.
While in high school, her mother had developed an intense interest in literature and poetry. But at the University of Pittsburgh during the Great Depression, a radical professor influenced her to discard her literary interests and become an active participant for political change. After attending meetings with groups of unemployed, she changed her major to sociology, earning a degree that would prepare her to practice social work. The year she graduated from college she also met Louis Budenz, an articulate and idealistic organizer for the Communist Party Labor Association. They were together for the rest of their lives.
As a young family they moved often, living on many "streets," the title of Margaret's autobiography. Julia describes her father at home in this poem about a man who was not skilled in the trades but who could tell a story:
Once there was a father who spun.
He couldn't fix the faucet or a broken doll,
He couldn't drive an auto or a needed nail,
But he could spin. Tell us a story.
You're here. Tell us a story.
I have to get wound up, he would say,
And somehow his daughters devised a plan
Of twisting their fists near his head or his arm.
(From Book Two, Part Five, The Diagram, "Helicon," page 242)
These lines refer to the stories of the Pumpernickels that Louis created to amuse his children at home, which is also described in Margaret's book (M. Budenz 205). He seems like any other father who stimulated the imagination of his children with his story-telling gifts. Yet outside the home, he was aggressively engaged with the upheavals of the times.
Parents and Politics
A teacher of sociology, history and the labor movement, who urged union members to take control of their lives, Louis spoke in flowery Shakespearian language crafted to persuade. He brought a specialty to the Communist Party, which was his skill in communicating with Catholics, whose fears about communism he sought to neutralize in order to draw them over into the church (M. Budenz 292). As World War II was ending, Margaret writes that she realized that Louis was formulating his idea that the revolution of the masses, the socialist revolution, was much the same as the great and sudden revolution of Christianity (M. Budenz 295). He quoted from the 19th century author Ernest Renan: "The ideas of the poor but honest man will judge the world." Margaret describes how the Conference at Yalta, where Stalin was given a seat to sign the agreement that brought an end to World War II, brought an end to their belief in any future for socialism (M. Budenz 300). When the administration at Notre Dame interviewed Louis for FBI clearance, he did not know these sessions were taped (M. Budenz 342). As the Cold War developed, his years working as a Communist Party writer, editor, and organizer would not be forgotten.
Margaret describes how she and Louis put their heads together to determine what they would teach their children. She writes, "We would teach them that nothing was important except to search for the truth. We would never assume that truth was absolute, or even humanly attainable, but rather that [after Montaigne], 'we are born to inquire after truth; it belongs to a greater power to possess it'" (M. Budenz 217). This vision gave the family direction. At one point Louis affirmed his love for his wife and family above the Party, which gave her what she needed to stay with him.
This focus on defining their own minds and to maintain identity amidst the pressure of the group occupies much of Margaret's autobiography. Margaret describes how the Party wanted a pledge of allegiance, as much as the country wanted it; then how the Catholic Church indoctrinates, to impress its ways of prayer and devotion upon the mind. Julia's parents were well versed in preparing for a meeting with Party organizers, priests, police, clinging parents, curious friends. It was the Cold War, a time of mind control, not gentle persuasion, but a determined wresting of the process of thought. It is important to keep in mind how much the lives of the Budenz family were taken up with battles for survival of the mind and soul.
Her father's difficulty, Julia explained at a reading in Cambridge, was his need to live out his passions to the fullest. For this he suffered. When the Party disbanded, when he traded one authoritarian system for another, when he joined the Church, he suffered through the changes.
Julia never wrote the history of her parents' struggles directly. But the lines she wrote about Cicero evoke her father's struggles:
Not just my possessions
Not only my family and friends,
But my self.
That's how Cicero wrote from Thessalonica
To his dear friend Titus Pomponius in Rome
On the fourteenth day before the Kalends of September.
(From Book Three, Part One, Urbiculture, "Exile," page 35).
Julia's poems reflect difficulties she knew well, of the pressures to conform to the group, even the group of choice. Although passionate, she was not confrontational. Through research, she found the arguments, history, and perspectives that illuminated and helped to bridge the divide between her outer and inner experiences.
High School, College, and the Convent
Julia always went her own way, a tendency she showed at an early age. Her mother wrote: "I was beginning to see that [Julia] had firm likes and dislikes, a strong will, and even a stubborn streak. She was developing tastes and preferences and standards of her own [at age four]" (M. Budenz 215). When she was in the tenth grade, Julia distinguished herself by winning the Latin prize. Right after she graduated from the College of New Rochelle, she entered the Ursuline Convent. "It was hard to be part of the Communist Party," she said of the experience, "and much harder to enter the convent." Within the Party, her parents practiced an activism that they could reduce, or even leave outside the door, once they gathered with their children in the privacy of their home. But the demands of the Church, designed to chastise inner thoughts and scrutinize distractions, organized every minute, night and day, of those who had been called to the vocation.
At mid-twentieth century, the Catholic Church stood as a refuge for the religious, offering them a structured, meaningful life based on devotion and charity. It was also in the throes of change. In 1959 the pope convened a council to begin a process known as Vatican II that would reform workings of the conservative institution to make it more sensitive to the modern world. Described by the Jesuit priest John W. O'Malley as means to empower the lay people in hopes that they would become more involved in their church (O'Malley 5), the changes of Vatican II were startling and, according to some, long overdue. Suddenly the liturgical mass, which had been celebrated in Latin for centuries, was held in English; the roles of bishops were redefined; values were discussed and tweeked. Priests and nuns no longer had to wear habits but could fulfill their duties in street clothes. Some Catholics found these changes liberating; others found them threatening and undermining of basic church authority. These meetings of the Second Vatican Council were completed in 1965, the year Budenz left the convent at New Rochelle.
Many priests and nuns left the church in the mid-1960s, some out of disappointment over the new regulations, others as a result of personal growth, many to get married. Budenz described how, when she arrived at the convent door, she gave up all her possessions down to the very clothes she wore. When she left, a friend met her at the gate with a change of clothes, cash, and offer of a spare room where she could stay until she found an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Budenz entered back into the world as she arrived, with nothing in terms of material goods, but with plenty in terms of aspirations and hopes for the future.
Budenz wore the nun's habit for ten years. During that time, she earned a Master of Arts degree at Catholic University and had enjoyed teaching as an instructor in classics at the College of New Rochelle. By 1965, she was ready to move on and trade the security and renunciation of cloistered life for the energy and freedom of another discipline. "Leaving the convent was my 'Sixties experience," she explained in the 1990s. "But I left to go to Harvard." She was accepted into the doctoral program of the Department of Comparative Literature in 1966. She would be a full time student until 1971.
I met Julia in the 1990s on the Harvard campus where our paths crossed in Widener Library and at poetry readings. After hesitating for years, I asked her to elaborate on her experience of being a nun and then leaving the order. She suggested that I read Karen Armstrong's account in The Spiral Staircase (published in 2004) to understand her decisions for putting aside her commitments to the religious life. She felt that Armstrong had captured the experience so vividly that she did not need to write her own version in prose. She needed instead to write her poem.
Much of what Armstrong describes in her book is what one might expect to hear about disenchantment with the cloistered life: the sense of claustrophobia, the insensitive mother superior, the weariness and boredom over the repetitious schedule of prayer and menial duties. Beyond that, Armstrong describes how nuns were prohibited from forming friendships, which would distract them from their devotion to their Lord, and her account of her eating allergies and undiagnosed epilepsy, startling examples of neglect in an institutional environment.
Armstrong describes her experience as follows:
When I entered my convent, I thought I had embarked on a mystical adventure like that of Percival and the other knights of the Grail, but instead of finding my own path, I had to follow somebody else's, Instead of striking out on my own, I had conformed to a way of life and modes of thought that had often seemed alien. As a result, I found myself in a wasteland, an inauthentic existence, in which I struggled mightily but fruitlessly to do what I was told (Armstrong 269).
Armstrong's use of the figure of Percival and the Holy Grail from medieval lore, and the imagery of the path and the wasteland, work well to convey her state of being. Budenz would also find these types of images useful. As she turned out poem after poem of an opus that would accumulate over 2000 printed pages, she engaged the English language with refreshing vitality to chronicle her years in a holy order and community and then creating a life outside of it.
The Long Poem
At Harvard Budenz took required classes for a doctorate in Comparative Literature. She relished the assigned studies in Anglo Saxon literature and the classics of Homer, Virgil, and Dante. She absorbed the epic reach of Milton and Pound, and the music of Tennyson. She was particularly fond of the epic poems. She often discussed the career of Emily Dickinson who completed 1700 poems in relative obscurity and exerted a profound influence on American literature. She befriended Elizabeth Bishop when Bishop arrived to teach at Harvard. Yet the author who might have influenced her the most was William Wordsworth and his book-length poem The Prelude, in which he created the experiences of his youth and young adulthood in blank verse. Editor Stephen Gill describes how Wordsworth's poem is not autobiography but is grounded in in actual circumstances, is not philosophy but affirms the transcendent, includes "childhood raptures and terrors among the lakes and mountains, life as a Cambridge student, walking across France and the Alps, the shows of London; war and its victims" (Gill 19-20) and more, in poetic verse that delights readers and defies critics.
Budenz began writing poetry in 1969 knowing that all she wrote would be part of one long poem. She opens Book One with a free verse poem that describes how she felt, upon leaving the convent, a deep sense of interior division:
I don't ask you to believe what I have seen.
I don't believe it myself. I only see it.
And I tell you as a point of information
There are some cracks in the world
There are some windows in the sky.
I knew it when the luminous blood
Was pouring over a long October west
And fell into the oaks, down into the dogwoods,
Down, down along the euonymus rivers
And into the barberry brooks
The sun has pricked a finger on a sprig of barberry,
And I have pricked my spirit on the sun.
(From Book One, By the Tree of Life, Sum, "Witness," page 5)
With these lines she sets the tone and demeanor of an account that links to the violent imagery of the Book of Revelation, with an emphasis on the pastoral trees and brooks, the particular month October, and a personification of the sun that "pricked a finger on a sprig of barberry." Reminded of Aurora in "The Sleeping Beauty" who pricks her finger on a spindle, the reader knows that it is not possible in any but the figurative world for the sun to inflict hurt on itself, but this description prepares for the association of wounding, "And I have pricked my spirit on the sun." This shift of topic to "spirit" brings to mind the young boy Icarus who lost his life because his ambition to fly took him too near the heat of the sun. Budenz gives herself room to show how the scope of her poetry will present her story, not as an innocent who was duped, but as a woman who made a serious choice about how to live and paid for it.
The next poem in Book One bears a title that introduces the abstraction "Heuristic." Encouraging the person to learn how to solve problems on her own was something Budenz would have to pursue outside the regulation of convent life. The speaker of the poem describes the process of walking on a familiar stone path:
And she felt a self that she recognized as real,
A self that was a half,
One half, and the other
(Book One, Part One, Sum, "Heuristic," page 6)
Here the narrator is introduced with an awareness of an unexplored self and an interior division of selves into halves, another device that will help her describe and later poke fun at her tendency toward perfection. This poem prepares for the appearance of the narrator's alter ego Flora Baum, although Flora does not really appear until Book Two.
The Ritual of Induction
Book One begins with a sudden awareness of cracks in perception of the world, and then circles back in time to recall an era when everything seemed part of a perfect unity. In the middle of the book, in the section "The Rite of the Call," Budenz creates a poem for each stage of the ritual of induction into the convent: The Candle, The Veil, The Ring, The Crown, The Banquet. These rituals are the titles of five three-part poems that communicate the engagement and vibrancy of her experience entering into the cloister. The language incorporates prayers and familiar lines from the Christian Bible, using images from nature prevalent in the texts.
She amasses terms from nature to describe the beauty and ideal landscape of the garden, the sky, the chamber, which will become her devoted life. Later, she repurposes these images from nature to describe her need to get out of a place that no longer sustains her. Geological changes occurring in nature demonstrate what happens when old forms wear out: rocks deteriorate, leaves are caught and pressed between layers, fossils are formed; in the process, the transformation of matter is recorded. These images from nature enrich her vocabulary to describe the new life she finds in the world outside the convent.
Each part of "The Rite of Call" features three poems that follow a pattern, in which poem one renders the summons to the ceremony, poem two records the impressions of the initiate in first person, and poem three adds to these impressions with lines in the third person. These poems present the spirit of the inductee as one of complete, willing immersion in the rite. The poems have the rich symbolic language familiar in the biblical accounts of the Wedding Feast at Cana, the Magnificat, and the sleeping bridegroom, that convey a universal tone consistent with historical Christian texts. Budenz's thesis work on the Rite of Virgins infuses this part of her project most intensely. One can sense the resonance of the rite of Vestal Virgins, whose temple remains at the Roman Forum stand as evidence of the participation of the young girls who were chosen as keepers of the eternal flame, as antecedent to Mathew 25:5, in which the virgins with their oil lamps await the sleeping bridegroom, who is announced "Behold the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him!" and prove to be wise or foolish according to their readiness:
Have you lit your lamp in the dawn?
Have you clasped the smooth, the columned wax
And lifted the flame to the rubescent sky?
Have you listened? Exult, He is coming.
Daughter come, Bride, come. Come, mine.
(Book One, Part Three, Epiphany, "The Candle," page 36.)
The dignity and respect accorded the ritual is evident in these poetic versions, which do not waver in delivery or tone, where we can feel the heft of the candle and see the brightness of its flame as we witness the obedience of the inductee. Here is the marriage ceremony of her initiation, with the symbols, the original ritual, the revised lesson. This narrative will be seen in a different light later, when, as it often is with brides and grooms, the groom must leave.
Leaving the Holy Order
The poems under the heading "The Waves Receding" describe her difficulty to communicate to others and to herself that she has changed spiritually and psychologically and wishes to leave the order. Because the language that she knows is too much a part of the community she is a part of, she is at a loss to communicate what she feels.
She returns to the narration of the bride and bridegroom and continues the story. Yes, the bride is beautiful, but then the bride complains of her man's departure (Book One, Part Four, The Waves Receding, "Vaunt," page 58). She dares to "boast of the pain" of boredom and the imprisonment that she felt behind concrete walls. While the absence of the groom is an age-old test of faith in a marriage, this poem suggests that for her, the paradigm of marriage is not working.
Chinks in the fabric of convent life are shown in sudden appearance of quirky behavior, showing us a woman with too much personality or ego to fit in with such a cloistered community:
She saw or almost saw
That she could renounce her soul,
Lumbering over the lawn like a swan,
But there was more. Paddling the grass,
She could or almost, for an instant,
Could utter without pomposity,
Without the original pique
That the good had dissolved with a scream
And the true with a sigh.
(Book One, Part Four, The Waves Receding, "Asseveration," page 64.)
The use of the verbs "lumbering" and "paddling" convey a light touch of humor in which the nun is not fraught with her renouncing but is invigorated, though awkward like a swan on land. The scream of truth is not blood-curdling; the sigh is not loud.
Another poem is written in ballad form, in which lines b and d rhyme. The pattern of sounds created by these rhymes introduces a sly sense of humor in this poem about discontentment, creating a sense of irony when expectations are upended. Her off-rhyme of "white" with "sleight" implies that the color of the pure is also a façade for one who performs tricks of magic rather than obedience. Then the pairing of "valley" with "dally" suggests that the valley of despair might seem otherwise to those who find some pleasant diversion there. The final quatrain links the religious parable with its mythical antecedent:
Golden speed has sped where the drafty
Wind can follow.
Arms reach through the winter. Daphne
Longs for Apollo.
(Book One, Part Four, The Waves Receding, "Consequence," page 78).
In a poem about the emergence of desire—to be free, to pursue knowledge, to find friendship—these lines show Budenz's increasing fondness for word play ("speed has sped"), for appropriating a well-known poetic form (the ballad) in a new context, and for supplanting Christian figures with those from Greek mythology, an area of literature that she will use more and more in poems to come.
Finding Sanctuary at Harvard
After she left the degree program at Harvard, Budenz became research assistant for I. Bernard Cohen, who was translating Galileo's scientific works from the Latin. This employment allowed Budenz to put her knowledge of Latin to use and enjoy the security of a salary and benefits. In the evenings, on long weekends, and at writer's retreats, she was free to explore the background of the religious rites and her own need for spiritual and intellectual growth. Her poetry reflects her delight in discovering new modes of thought, learning, and expression. Humor and irony strengthen in "Sidereus Nuncius," which takes its title ("the starry messenger") from the pamphlet where Galileo published his findings about the sky seen through his telescope. These lines, part of a five-part poem, are marked by a new vitality in tone:
A pulsar said: Among the stars
Wanders your little sun.
Upon the moon you'll all be leaping soon.
Living on Mars,
And ho! Back into the sea you go.
(Book One, Part Four, The Waves Receding, "Sidereus Nuncius," page 106).
Describing historical events of astronomy in bold imperatives, she demonstrates a renewed sense of self.
Another poem uses terminology from science to describe most clearly how far she has fallen from her faith, the faith that no longer kept her behind convent walls.
There are many stars, but my star
It is heavy on itself. An angstrom
Slice weighs tongues.
No light seeps out. And nothing
Ever seeps out.
I watched that star. That star
Has sucked me in.
(Book One, Part Four, The Waves Receding, "A Black Hole," page 111).
While these lines seem despairing, they are not the last lines. Book One ends with the image of Pygmalion. The narrator acknowledges that, while the artist/king fell in love with his statue, the objectified creation had not lost the sense of agency in her creation, but concludes, "I knew you./ I made you" (Book One, Book Four, Difference, "Pygmalion," 117). Here Budenz maintains her independence and asserts her individuality over a collection of poetic modes, types, and tropes.
Budenz loved her work. To meet her on the street, on her way to the library, or at a poetry reading was to be subject to a torrent of energy about her current project. A friend wrote, "I loved having her regale me with her endless studies all of which could easily have been turned into dissertations or books, but which nourished her poem instead" (Karo email 1 May 2014). Budenz would describe her need for uninterrupted silence to write her poetry, away from the interference of city noise, conversation, and music, which she loved but found distracting when she needed to give full concentration to her art.
Budenz referred to a passage in the autobiography of Karen Armstrong, who described her renewed love of silence after she left the convent. In the freedom of her own private writing life, she began to see working in silence as a comfort rather than hardship:
At first this silence [that I needed to work] had seemed a deprivation, a symbol of an unwanted isolation. I had resented the solitude of my life and fought it. But gradually the enveloping quiet became a positive element, almost a presence, which settled comfortably and caressingly around me like a soft shawl. It seemed to hum, gently but melodiously, and to orchestrate the ideas that I was contending with, until they started to sing too, to vibrate and reveal an unexpected resonance. (Armstrong 283-284)
Looking at the arc of Budenz's life, one can sense how much the years in the convent prepared her for the discipline of scholarship she was to become engaged in. A great deal of research went into the creation of each poem. With her concentration on the English language, and Latin and Greek, she found ways to combine the ecclesiastical with myth, fairy tale, song, and science.
Armstrong also wrote about her independence from the convent as an ironic situation, in which she sought change but the structure of her days remained very much the same, a pattern that would apply to Budenz's life:
I tried to break away from the convent but I still live alone, spend my days in silence, and am almost wholly occupied in writing, thinking, and speaking about God and spirituality. (Armstrong 306)
For Budenz, the chambers of Widener Library became her church, where she carried on her research until she died of cancer of the appendix in December 2010. While she did not further explore her belief in a monotheistic God, she did continue to use symbols prevalent in religious writing. More and more she focused on the symbol of the tree and its various guises and settings: the tree of life, the one tree, and the garden.
In one of the last poems of Book One, Budenz describes a search through a forest to find the tree that she desired, a catalpa. This tree embodies the idealism and beauty that she sought in her faith and in her art, and the length of her journey to find it took nine years, the same length as her cloistered life. But now she is getting closer to the source of the symbol that embodies the core of the truth that she seeks, that links the ideal with reality. She meets an old woman who agrees to guide her to that which is "like a catalpa":
And so she went with the old woman
For nine journeying years.
That they kept approaching close and closer
The scent attested. But at last
She reached the catalpa.
It was a catalpa.
(Book One, Part Four, The Waves Receding, "Fairy Tale," page 101)
The catalpa tree in Harvard Yard is near the gate to the Science Center. Using the convention of comparison, Budenz maintains that the tree she found was not a resemblance of a vision, but it was a real tree, in a real place. She walked past it every day.
An Assessment of the Poetry and the Literary Life
Budenz published individual poems widely in literary and scholarly journals and online at The Poetry Porch where she was a regular contributor. Her breakthrough into publishing came when Wesleyan University Press accepted a section of Book Two for publication in 1984, which was titled From 'The Gardens of Flora Baum'. Then a segment from Book Three was published by Pigot Press in New York under the title Camina Carmentis. She was well known to a small audience of poets and scholars, yet her literary life was a full one. She received fellowships from the Bunting Program at Radcliffe, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Harvard University. She gave readings and spoke at conferences in many venues in the United States, Britain and Rome, and held residencies at Bellagio and Yaddo. While commentary by Amy Clampitt, Susan Mitchell, William Doreski, and others appeared during her lifetime, real criticism did not begin to assemble until her complete work was available posthumously through Carpathia Press in 2011. (See her VITA attached and at The Poetry Porch ).
It is important to note that Budenz did not encourage the reading of her poetry as the story of her life. She did not want to be known in this way. Rather than provide an understanding of what she did as a woman in the twentieth century, she wanted to draw the reader in to absorb her experiences as a poet who delighted in, suffered with, and sorrowed over the non-events of our days in all their richness. You will find references to historical incidents in Budenz's poetry that might not summarize their importance but will contextualize them in ways unique and deeply felt. How is if for one who lived according to her beliefs for one length of time and then must explain her change of heart? How does it go for one who must leave the daily context of the language she loved and create a new language? How much can images from church, nature, and science support each other to convey the delight of the alert mind on a brilliant New England morning? These are the treasures in the work of Julia Budenz that invigorate the narrative and lyric forms in one long epic poem.
Budenz's Synopsis of the Five Books
Budenz worked from a synopsis that treats each book as a particular garden, the garden of the holy, the beautiful, the true, the good, and the whole. This outline or roadmap, published online in 1997 at The Poetry Porch, is included in the Carpathia Press volumes.
The first garden is the garden of the holy; its book explores transcendence, is located partially in Eden, and draws upon imagery from the Bible and the liturgy. Its title, "By the Tree of Life," indicates that despite its strong center this book may be considered a Paradise Lost, as is suggested also by the names of its five parts: "Sum," "The Path Approaching," "Epiphany," "The Waves Receding," and "Difference."
The second garden is the garden of the beautiful; its book contemplates the aesthetic, is situated partially in Greece, and makes use of Greek literature, mythology, and geography. This second book, which is called "Towards a Greek Garden," has a midpoint as well as a final destination and also consists of five parts, whose names intimate both the patterned centering and the linear progression: "The Program," "Iliad," "The History," "Odyssey," "The Diagram." Since Flora Baum reaches the Greek garden, the second book may be designated a Paradise Regained.
The third garden is that of the true, specifically of academic knowledge, of scholarship, of learning. Its book, entitled "Rome," uses material from Roman literature, history, and topography. This is the pivotal book in the design and development of the poem; its three parts—"Urbiculture," "Floralia," and "Umbrageous Vision"—mark not only a center which is both city and garden but also a difficult struggle to pass through pedantry to erudition and insight.
The fourth garden is that of the good and blooms with human relations. Its book, "Towards Farthest Thule," is set partly in Britain, finally in Shetland. As might be expected, it utilizes English and Scottish literature, folklore, and geography. The book begins with a long ballad, "The Lay of the Last Monk," continues with an epyllion called "Sibyl," and concludes with a sequence of lyrics, "Lyre, Harp, Violin."
The fifth and final garden is the garden of the whole. Its book, "By the Tree of Knowledge," is the philosophical book, the one most fully placed in Flora Baum's native America but also situated in her native world, in her homeland the earth, in her home the universe. It is the book of the elm, rooted and reaching. It grounds itself not only in a meditation upon philosophy but also in social science and physical science, in culture and nature, in the microcosm and the mesocosm and the macrocosm, in the final paracosm, the final paradigm and paradise.
Suggested Biographical Parallel of the Five Books
For the purposes of this timeline, I summarized the volumes of her poem as they relate to events of her life as follows: In Volume One she explores leaving the convent, recalls being immersed in the rituals there, and then evokes her life after leaving it. Volume Two explores the wrestling with the demands and exhilaration of being a student at Harvard, leaving the doctoral program, seeking employment, and developing independent creative writing projects. One third of the way through this book, Flora Baum, the narrator's alter-ego, appears. Volume Three explores her making a return to Rome as a scholar, engaging with research through reading original sources and in walking, observing, and reflecting on the city. The longest, this volume consists of many styles of writing, including sonnets and epistles, as well as narratives. Volume Four salutes friendship and develops the self and soul of Flora Baum through journal entries dated 2001 through 2007. Volume Five continues with journal entries of Flora Baum that are dated by day and month but not year, and letters of communications with the ghost of 19th century author and feminist Margaret Fuller (with whom Budenz shared a birthday May 23) in which Julia signs some of the letters, as well as Flora. This volume is not finished. Some of the poems chronicle Julia's last days struggling with her illness with a stark realism, a departure in style from poems elsewhere in the epic. The book ends with a form of prayer, to trust, trust in a tree, in the process of death, as Flora lives on and Julia prepares to die.
Armstrong, Karen. The Spiral Staircase (My Climb Out of Darkness). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
Budenz, Margaret R. Streets. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1979.
Gill, Stephen, Ed. William Wordsworth's The Prelude. A Casebook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Karo, Becky. Recollections about Julia Budenz. Email to Joyce Wilson. 1 May 2014.
"Hestia," "Vesta." The New Century Classical Handbook. Catherine B. Avery, Editor. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1962.
O'Malley, John W. What Happened at Vatican II. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.
Books by Julia Budenz:
From 'The Gardens of Flora Baum' (the conclusion of Book Two, "Towards a Greek Garden"). Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1984.
Camina Carmentis (selection from Book Three, "Rome"). Brooklyn: Pivot Press, 2005.
The Gardens of Flora Baum, a poem in five books. Chelmsford: Carpathia Press, 2011. See www.carpathiapress.com
"Query Re One's Work," an essay. The Poetry Porch, 1997.
Diagram of Epic Poem, a summary. The Poetry Porch, 1997.
For other publications and information, see Julia Budenz's bio pages and her vita online at The Poetry Porch also her bio at www.carpathiapress.com.
Clampitt, Amy. "How Everything Connects: Julia Budenz, John Ashbery, and Others," Predecessors, et cetera, essays. University of Michigan Press, 1991.
Ransford, Tessa. "Arborified: Julia Budenz, The Gardens of Flora Baum." Arion, A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Boston University, Fall 2012.
Turner, Frederick. "A Garden of Forking Paths." World Literature Today, A Bimonthly Magazine of International Literature & Culture. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma, January 2014. www.worldliteraturetoday.org
Van Sickle, John. "Julia Budenz: The Gardens of Flora Baum. Book Three – Rome." Vergilius, The Journal of the Vergilian Society, Volume 59 (2013).
Mitchell, Susan. "On Julia Budenz and Constance Hunting." New York: Parnassus: Poetry in Review 15.1, Fifteenth Anniversary Issue, 1986.
Clark, Eleanor. Rome and a Villa. Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1952.
Gill, Stephen, Ed. The Oxford Authors: William Wordsworth. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Masson, Georgina. The Companion Guide to Rome. Ed. John Fort. Woodbridge: Companion Guides, 2003.
Watkin, David. The Roman Forum. London: Profile Books, 2009.