Jan. 28, 2004
This is the Garden
Poem: "This is the Garden," by E.E. Cummings, from Complete Poems: 1904-1962 (W.W. Norton).
This is the Garden
this is the garden: colours come and go,
frail azures fluttering from night's outer wing
strong silent greens serenely lingering,
absolute lights like baths of golden snow.
This is the garden: pursed lips do blow
upon cool flutes within wide glooms, and sing
(of harps celestial to the quivering string)
invisible faces hauntingly and slow.
This is the garden. Time shall surely reap
and on Death's blade lie many a flower curled,
in other lands where other songs be sung;
yet stand They here enraptured, as among
the slow deep trees perpetual of sleep
some silver-fingered fountain steals the world.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of (Sidonie Gabrielle) Colette, born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, France (1873). At the age of 20, she married an older man, a writer and critic who employed a number of ghostwriters. He convinced Colette to write down stories about her childhood and embellish them with juicy details. When she did, he published them in his name as Claudine at School (1900), the first novel in the Claudine series, about an outspoken, clever young woman who discovers a love affair between a headmistress and a young female teacher. Colette's early writing was forced labor: her husband locked her in a room until she had produced enough pages for the day, and he kept the royalties. After fleeing her husband in 1906, Colette became a Parisian music-hall performer famous for baring one breast while dancing. At the Moulin Rouge, she caused even more controversy when she took a woman into a passionate embrace. The show caused a riot. The curtain had to be brought down early, and Colette became the talk of the town.
Colette began to write at least one book a year, producing more than 80 volumes, including Chéri (1920), My Mother's House (1922) and Sido (1930). Proust admired her, and wrote to her to say that her novella Mitsou (1930), about a music-hall artist who falls in love with an officer on leave, had moved him to tears. She kept up to two dozen cats in her house, and her novel La Chatte (The Cat, 1933) deals with a kind of love triangle between a man, a woman and a cat. In 1944, at the age of 72, she published Gigi, about a spontaneous young girl who is trained by courtesans in "the honorable habits of women without honor." It was adapted for the theater in 1951, with a young Audrey Hepburn in the title role, and later made into a movie.
When she died in 1954 Colette was denied a Catholic funeral, but thousands attended the state funeral provided by the French government—the first for a woman. A plaque on her house in Paris reads, "Here lived, here died Colette, whose work is a window wide open on life."
Colette said, 'sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."
And she said, "The lovesick, the betrayed, and the jealous all smell alike," and "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®