Daniel Bosch on Daisy Fried’s poem “Torment”

Here is a fine reading by Daniel Bosch of one of the best poems of the last few years, Daisy Fried’s “Torment,” from her Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice (2013). I wonder, though, if Bosch is right? That is, is it true that “Torment” doesn’t allow any ironic distance between the character and the creator/narrator? The difference isn’t secure, true, just as the “Daisy” character can’t feel smugly superior to the confusions of the Princeton students; all this makes for powerful drama. But Bosch’s reading undercuts the reflective power of the poem, its ability to see ironies in retrospect that you can’t see when immersed in experience as it unfolds. That’s another level of “torment,” but also suggests something else: the poem does more than lacerate its characters and author. The Larkin comparison is brilliant, but I’m really struck by how Larkin resorts to quasi-religious/Christian imagery and allusions to generate ironic distance from unthinking happiness or envy in “High Windows,” whereas Daisy on the Dinky train does not (except perhaps via the distant echo of Dante in the title). That said, the depth of this reading definitely honors “Torment,” a poem that’s well worth reading and re-reading. [Full disclosure: Daisy Fried is a Swarthmore grad, but that has little to do with why I so admire this poem.]


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Daniel Bosch on Daisy Fried’s poem “Torment”

  1. Daniel Bosch says:

    Thank you, Peter, for reading my article. It’s great to write to someone who also has read Fried’s poem so closely! It seems to me your comment implies that “Torment” would be an even better poem if your reading were correct and it were not so lacerating toward its characters. I wonder if you could give a brief account of why you think so, if you do. Is there really something less good about a poem that is as purely lacerating as the one I describe?

    • Peter Schmidt says:

      Well, I could certainly read the poem as straightforward satire–that is, as “lacerating” all the characters, especially the students but also perhaps the older p o v character too, a persona or mask for Fried herself (but certainly not 100% her, nor is the poem entirely autobiographical; it’s a reimagining of some events she witnessed, as are so many other poems). Pure satire is often cruel and does tend to “torment” the figures of its scorn: think of Pope, for instance. But I think an interesting case can be made that the poem is about compassion as well, towards both how the students hide their uncertainty in bravado and posturing and how the p o v narrator explores her own uncertainties, fears, and insecurities as well, from “inside” so to speak, rather than from a secure and distant and superior point of view from above or beyond (as is common in classic satire, which is rather cold and distant towards its character). Discussing textual proof for this latter reading (which I admit is speculative, and tentative) would make this particular reply too long. But the issues you raise are certainly important ones. Thanks for a thoughtful post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *