Thomas and Beulah


by Rita Dove

“A remarkable book. . . . Dove has planed away unnecessary matter: pure shapes, her poems exhibit the thrift that Yeats called the sign of a perfected manner.” —New York Review of Books

The poems in this unusual book tell a story, forming a narrative almost like a realistic novel. Read in sequence as intended, they tell of the lives of a married black couple (not unlike Dove’s own grandparents) from the early part of the century until their deaths in the 1960s, a period that spans the great migration of blacks from rural south to urban north. But this is merely the social backdrop to the story of a marriage. Two separate sequences offer two views of the couple’s lives: the first, “Mandolin,” consists of 23 poems giving Thomas’s side, and “Canary in Bloom” gives Beulah’s in 21 poems. Together they paint a detailed, poetically dense portrait of two lives in all their frailty, dignity and complexity. The collection was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1987.

Paperback | 80 pages | Carnegie Mellon University Press; 1st edition | 1986

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