Her mind lives in a quiet room,
A narrow room, and tall,
With pretty lamps to quench the gloom
And mottoes on the wall.
There all the things are waxen neat
And set in decorous lines;
And there are posies, round and sweet,
And little, straightened vines.
Her mind lives tidily, apart
From cold and noise and pain,
And bolts the door against her heart,
Out wailing in the rain.
Poet, writer, critic and mostly sharp. That’s Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). This is the first time I read her poetry and I’m completely fascinated. How could you not after reading the first
lines of “Coda”? There’s little in taking or giving, / There’s little in water or wine; / This living, this living, this living / Was never a project of mine.
The title of this collection is so fitting, for these poems are stunning as a sunset and lethal as a gun – though poems like “Frustration” makes me think she just wants a gun to use at sunset. But for now it’s probably best to keep a more poetic approach.
There still are kindly things for me to know,
Who am afraid to dream, afraid to feel-
This little chair of scrubbed and sturdy deal,
This easy book, this fire, sedate and slow.
And I shall stay with them, nor cry the woe
Of wounds across my breast that do not heal;
Nor wish that Beauty drew a duller steel,
Since I am sworn to meet her as a foe.
It may be, when the devil’s own time is done,
That I shall hear the dropping of the rain
At midnight, and lie quiet in my bed;
Or stretch and straighten to the yellow sun;
Or face the turning tree, and have no pain;
So shall I learn at last my heart is dead.
Verses about love found and naturally lost, people as passengers coming and going, the role of a woman in a limited world; ambivalence and indecision that comfort us so on the road to nowhere – they all brim with Parker’s compassionate ways and caustic wit. A sense of humor which delights the random listener, may wound the receiver and becomes a tragicomic anecdote with the passage of time. Sometimes, a lot of time.
My heart went fluttering with fear
Lest you should go, and leave me here
To beat my breast and rock my head
And stretch me sleepless on my bed.
Ah, clear they see and true they say
That one shall weep, and one shall stray
For such is Love’s unvarying law…
I never thought, I never saw
That I should be the first to go;
How pleasant that it happened so!
Then you see, under the sun and moon
It all comes down to one afternoon.
* Photo credit: Book cover via Goodreads