Though Kenneth Rexroth wrote quite a few splendid love poems, not many of them are finer than the seven loosely sequenced love verses with which his book In Defense of the Earth opens. These poems—once called the "Marthe" poems (and called so in this essay for convenience)—are distinguished by, among other things, the character of their representation of married love and its complications. The "Marthe" poems were originally addressed to Marthe Larsen, Rexroth's third wife. The seven poems were written in the mid-1950s during a period of considerable marital stress between the Rexroths. One San Francisco newspaper (The San Francisco Examiner) in a brief article mentions charges made by Marthe against Rexroth of extreme mental cruelty and even physical abuse. Though some dark marital facts (or charges) do not contradict the veracity of the rich and poignant emotions pulsing through the "Marthe" poems. they certainly do complicate the nature of the relationship and of the poem sequence arising out of it.



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