Critical Response 2: Lorine Niedecker

“Seven years a charming woman wore

Her coat, removed the collar where it tore,

Little warmth but honor in her loose

thin coat, without knowing why

she’s so. Charming? Well, she’s destitute” (Niedecker, 111)


Lorine Niedecker was a poet that lived in Wisconsin, secluded from other writers. Niedecker’s seclusion had a noticeable impact on her tone within her poetry. In the above poem, there is a clear narrator that is not the subject; Niedecker’s choice to use a third person narration of the woman separates the reader from the subject. The reader is not allowed to know the subject’s thoughts or feeling which provides separation. Based on the narrator not being the subject, any emotional description is observed over expressed, and thus will lack verification. Even though the reader is not allowed an emotional understanding of the subject from the subject herself, Niedecker’s audience is introduced to the perceived emotional state of the subject through the third person narration that takes on the form of commentary as well as narration. The charming woman’s personality is mostly expressed in the line “Little warmth but honor in her loose thin coat…” the charming woman, the audience can understand, is most likely deprived of food, and without the means of buying new clothing based on her wearing a worn-out coat. It is suggestive that the charming woman is hungry based on the ‘looseness’ of the coat as she most likely has lost weight. The charming woman becomes a reflection of the given populace in the time period of American history in the 1930’s which is roughly the time of the poem’s conception.  The 1930’s places this poem as an observation of the Great Depression. In the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover was elected President in 1928 following his election was the stock market crash of October 1929 which closed many places of employment for the American public. As a result of unemployment, there was a rise in homelessness, famine, and poverty. America was in despair and ill with the beginnings of hopelessness; yet, America did not give up completely. America persevered through the Great Depression and many benefits’ were introduced to Americans through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The perseverance of America encompasses the essence of the American Spirit as well as stubbornness and morality that follows a mostly tradition Judeo-Christian foundation of values. In this regard, the charming woman can be seen as a representation of the American spirt because she possesses an air of pride or honor even in the face of strife. The line “Seven years a charming woman wore her coat” could have potential of a subtle underlay of a Christian theme as seven is considered a Christian number. There are seven deadly sins and heavenly virtues, as well as it took G-d seven days to create the world. The subtle Christian underlying theme of seven, combined with the pride and perseverance of the charming woman in the face of destitution creates Niedecker’s charming woman as a reflection of or representation of the American Sprit.



Works Cited:

“Depression and Unemployment |Turning Points in Wisconsin …” Wisconsin Historical Society. ©1996-2016 Wisconsin Historical Society, 816 State Street, Madison, WI 53706, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

“Lorine Niedecker – Poetry Foundation.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Niedecker, Lorine. Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works. Comp. Jenny Lynn Penberthy. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2002. Print.


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