Feb. 15, 2009

Love Poem

by Donald Hall

When you fall in love,
you jockey your horse
into the flaming barn.

You hire a cabin
on the shiny Titanic.
You tease the black bear.

Reading the Monitor,
you scan the obituaries
looking for your name.

"Love Poem" by Donald Hall, from White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the week of Valentine's Day, a week in which we've been talking about love stories — in literature and in real life.

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West met in December of 1922 at a dinner party. Over the next 19 years — until Virginia's suicide — they were friends and lovers, and they exchanged many hundreds of letters.

On this day in 1935, Virginia wrote a letter to Vita:

Friday          52 Tavistock Sqre.
I'm longing for an adventure, dearest Creature. But would like to stipulate for at least 48 1/2 minutes alone with you. Not to say or do anything in particular. Mere affection — to the memory of the porpoise in the pink window.
I've been so buried under with dust and rubbish. But now here's the spring ...
My mind is filled with dreams of romantic meetings. D'you remember once sitting at Kew in a purple storm? ...
So let me know, and love me better and better, and put another rung on the ladder and let me climb up.

After she met Virginia, Vita wrote in a letter: "I simply adore Virginia Woolf. At first you think she is plain, then a sort of spiritual beauty imposes itself on you, and you find a fascination in watching her. ... I have quite lost my heart."

Virginia captured everything she loved about Vita by making her the basis for the title character in Orlando (1928), her novel about an Elizabethan nobleman who suddenly becomes a woman at the age of thirty.

John Fowles' novel The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969) is the story of Sarah Woodruff, a Victorian governess in a town on the southwest coast of England. Sarah is mysterious, a loner; she spends her time off from work standing on the sea wall, staring out at the ocean. The town loves to gossip about her — they say that a French sailor had taken advantage of her and that she is a fallen woman. But Sarah captures the attention of Charles Smithson, an amateur paleontologist with a boring fiancée named Ernestina, who falls for Sarah and her story.

The French Lieutenant's Woman has been called a postmodern love story, because the author sometimes shows up in the narrative, and there is more than one possible ending.

Another great love story is The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, (books by this author) . Jay Gatsby builds himself a life of luxury and entertainment, with every detail perfect, for one end only: to impress the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan, whom he met when he was a young officer and she was an unmarried Southern belle. She has since married Tom Buchanan.

Gatsby arranges to meet Daisy again through her cousin, Nick Carraway, who is Gatsby's neighbor and who narrates the story. Gatsby and Daisy are reunited, and they have an affair. Tom is furious. He confronts Gatsby and exposes him as a fraud. Jay Gatsby is actually Jimmy Gatz, a self-made man who comes from a small town in North Dakota.

After the confrontation, Daisy and Gatsby drive back home together, and the car hits Tom's lover Myrtle and kills her. Tom is enraged, and he tells Myrtle's husband that Gatsby killed her. Nick realizes that it wasn't Gatsby who hit Myrtle — that Daisy was actually driving — but Gatsby takes the blame, even though Daisy has abandoned him and gone back to Tom.

The next day Gatsby is in the pool at his mansion, pining for Daisy, and Myrtle's husband comes to Gatsby's house, walks up to the pool, and shoots him.

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




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