Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poets: Analysis of JOSEPHINE JACOBSEN

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poets

Analysis:             Poet's Biography

Josephine Jacobsen (1908-2003) was a significant American poet and critic, whose work is characterized by its formal elegance and thematic depth. Throughout her career, she received high praise for her finely crafted poems, which often explored the complexities of existence, the subtleties of consciousness, and the relationship between art and reality.

Literary Background

Jacobsen was an autodidact with a passion for literature from an early age. Although she never completed a college degree, her rigorous self-education and broad reading across disciplines informed her poetry and prose. Her early encounters with poetry included the works of Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose influences can be seen in her attention to the natural world and her innovative use of language.

Early Influences

Early on, Jacobsen was influenced by the Metaphysical poets, whose blend of intellectual play and emotional depth can be seen throughout her work. She was also drawn to the symbolism found in the work of French poets like Charles Baudelaire and Stephane Mallarme. The precision and density of her poetry reflect her lifelong engagement with a diverse range of poetic voices and traditions.

Poetic Schools or Movements

While not associated with a specific school or movement, Jacobsen's work exhibits an affinity for the Modernist concern with fragmentation and the role of the artist, though her work maintains a clear and accessible voice. She crafted poems that are intellectually and emotionally rich, combining the technical mastery of formal poetic traditions with a modern sensibility.

Poetic Oeuvre

Josephine Jacobsen's poetic oeuvre is marked by its variety and its quality. Her poetry is known for its subtlety, moral intelligence, and lyrical precision. She often engaged with the arts and the natural world, as well as the interplay between the two, in her work.

Themes frequently explored in Jacobsen’s poetry include:

*Perception and Reality: Many of her poems delve into the nature of perception and the ways in which reality is mediated through language and art.

*Art and the Artist: Jacobsen often reflected on the process of creation and the role of the artist, probing the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of artistic creation.

*Nature and the Environment: The natural world is a recurring presence in her work, approached with a sense of wonder and often serving as a metaphor for human emotions and experiences.

*The Human Condition: Jacobsen's poems consider the complexities of the human condition, including aging, loss, and death, with a clear-eyed tenderness and existential depth.

She received critical acclaim for her technical mastery, employing a range of forms from free verse to more structured, traditional forms. Her language was precise and evocative, often achieving a deep resonance through simple clarity.


Though not a household name, Jacobsen's influence is felt among poets and readers who value the quiet intensity and formal craftsmanship of her work. Her critical essays and reviews also contributed to literary discourse, reflecting her sharp analytical mind and broad-ranging interests.


Josephine Jacobsen served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position now known as the U.S. Poet Laureate) from 1971 to 1973. She was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received various awards for her work, including the Shelley Memorial Award and the Robert Frost Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Society of America.


Josephine Jacobsen’s literary legacy is that of a poet deeply attuned to the nuances of language and the subtleties of human experience. Her poetry, with its blend of intellectual rigor and emotional insight, invites readers to consider the profound questions of existence through the lens of everyday life. Her recognition as one of the late 20th century’s most accomplished poets continues to grow as more readers and scholars come to appreciate the understated power of her work. Jacobsen’s poetry remains a testament to the enduring capabilities of the written word to explore and articulate the deepest dimensions of the human psyche.

Copyright (c) 2024 PoetryExplorer

Discover our Poem Explanations and Poet Analyses!

Other Poems of Interest...

Home: PoetryExplorer.net