The Baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven’s Body Sweats: Poems of the City and Consumption

^ George Grantham Bain, Claude McRay [i.e. McKay] and Baroness v. Freytag [i.e. Von Freytag-Loringhoven], Photograph. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

The city for the Baroness evolves out of her bodily penetration of its surfaces. It is both a bastion of promise and a wasteland of demise. As a transgressive site, the city highlights its inherent contradiction, as the Baroness both consumes and is consumed by the metropolis— “the consumptive/ Assumptive” binary on which it is predicated in her poem “Tailend Mistake: America.” In other poems, the city mergers with the Baroness’s own sensory perceptions, as in “Appalling Heart,” wherein the “City stir on eardrum—” represents at once the city as object being perceived and as medium of perception. In “Ostentatious,” she arranges the sky’s cloudy architecture into a surreal cityscape with “Ultramarine/ Avenues/ Limpid/ Thoroughfare.” The poems also document the effects of the city’s sensory overload, as in “Tryst” in which the “Sluggish/ Glowering—” of the Hudson River “Chafes/ At/ Checked/ Motion,” or “Palermo,” wherein the Latinate locale is weighted down in the ominous line “Down city presses eve deep—.”

–Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo, Body Sweats: the Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

APPALLING HEART

City stir — wind on eardrum —
dancewind: herbstained —
flowerstained — silken —rustling —
tripping — swishing — frolicking —
courtesing — careening — brushing —
flowing — lying down — bending —
teasing — kissing: treearms —grass —
limbs — lips.
City stir on eardrum —.
In night lonely
peers —:
moon — riding!
pale — with beauty aghast —
too exalted to share!
in space blue — rides she away from mine chest —
illumined strangely —
appalling sister!

Herbstained — flowerstained —
shellscented — seafaring —
foresthunting — junglewise —
desert gazing —
rides heart from chest —
lashing with beauty —
afleet —
across chimney —
tinfoil river
to meet
another’s dark heart!

Bless mine feet!

(1920)

Adapted from and reprinted with permission of the editors and publisher of Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, edited by Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo (Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press, 2011): 98, 103-104. For more information and to purchase Body Sweats, head to MIT Press
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