Feb. 14, 2009

Mary Bly

by James Wright

I sit here, doing nothing, alone, worn out by long winter.
I feel the light breath of the newborn child.
Her face is smooth as the side of an apricot,
Eyes quick as her blond mother's hands.
She has full, soft, red hair, and as she lies quiet
In her tall mother's arms, her delicate hands
Weave back and forth.
I feel the seasons changing beneath me,
Under the floor.
She is braiding the waters of air into the plaited manes
Of happy colts.
They canter, without making a sound, along the shores
Of melting snow.

"Mary Bly" by James Wright, from Selected Poems. © Wesleyan University Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Valentine's Day. This week we are celebrating love stories in fiction and in real life.

One of the most famous literary couples met in July of 1918, when a young lieutenant stationed in Alabama went to a dance at the Montgomery Country Club. There he met a Southern belle named Zelda Sayre. She had gray eyes and reddish-gold hair; she was spirited and independent, from a good family. And she liked the lieutenant, who was small, blond, and handsome, and whose name was Scott Fitzgerald. They fell in love.

But Zelda didn't want to commit to Scott. She had plenty of other suitors, and Scott had no money and no prospects. So Scott went back to his parents' house in St. Paul, Minnesota, determined to get a book published and win Zelda over. And he did. In September of 1919, the editor Maxwell Perkins convinced Scribner's to accept This Side of Paradise. When Fitzgerald found out, he proposed to Zelda, and she accepted.

For the next few months, they wrote letters, anticipating their wedding in April of 1920, just eight days after the publication of This Side of Paradise. Eighty-nine years ago, in February of 1920, Zelda wrote to Scott:

Darling Heart, our fairy tale is almost ended, and we're going to marry and live happily ever afterward just like the princess in her tower who worried you so much — and made me so very cross by her constant recurrence — I'm so sorry for all the times I've been mean and hateful — for all the miserable minutes I've caused you when we could have been so happy. You deserve so much — so very much — I think our life together will be like these last four days — and I do want to marry you — even if you do think I "dread" it — I wish you hadn't said that — I'm not afraid of anything. To be afraid a person has either to be a coward or very great and big. I am neither. Besides, I know you can take much better care of me than I can, and I'll always be very, very happy with you — except sometimes when we engage in our weekly debates — and even then I rather enjoy myself.

They had a quiet wedding in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan. Besides Scott and Zelda, the only people there were Zelda's three sisters and their husbands and a friend of Scott's from Princeton. It was a short service, and Scott and Zelda left for the Biltmore Hotel.

They became a mythic couple of the Jazz Age — beautiful and wild. They supported each other but also drove each other crazy. They were both jealous people and would do outrageous things to get each other's attention. And they both drank heavily. Zelda began to suffer nervous breakdowns and was in and out of hospitals, and Scott was an alcoholic. But they stayed together until Scott's death in 1940. Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald died in 1947, in North Carolina, when the hospital she was staying at caught fire.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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