Saturday

Aug. 7, 2010

Epithalamium

by Thomas Lynch

That man who was married in the same black suit
he was laid out in, years later, and buried,
his widow's tears—they might all make sense to you,
now that the two of you are to be married.

You've seen old photos of the two of them
taken seven decades back or more.
They showed up smiling and said, of course
we will, for better or worse, and then

they raised their glasses, cut the cake and kissed
and tossed the bride's bouquet and garter out
and thanked their parents and assembled guests,
then danced until the candles were blown out,

then danced some more; they were that enamored.
And who could blame them, so nearly perfect
in their flesh and finery and desires;
in all ways poised and blessed and elect

as you are now, and may you always be:
each of you eager to please the other
to let the selfish minute pass, to see
yourselves perfected always in each other.

That old man, when he was young, he brought his bride
home to the house he had readied for her,
and swept her up and carried her inside
as was the custom then, and then together

they helped each other out of their new clothes:
his gabardines, her lace and satin gown,
his tie, her veil, his buttons and her bows
then stood there looking at themselves, alone.

Before they fell into their embracing,
because they thought they'd need them in the end,
they tucked their garments carefully away
in cedar boxes underneath the bed.

And when the going got a little rough
when patience frayed or tempers flared, when love
seemed to have left them only filled with loss
as in all lifelong marriages it must,

when forgiveness and forgetting seemed
impossible, they'd kneel beside their bed
and bury their faces in those wedding things—
her tears, his curses, her fears, his pride and dread,

all dried and muffled in that day's old raiments
which smelled of their sweet youth and promises.
And though they never settled everything,
they did their best to do the next best thing.

"Epithalamium" by Thomas Lynch, from Walking Papers: Poems 1999-2009. © W.W. Norton and Co., 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of writer and editor Anne Fadiman, (books by this author) born in New York City (1953). Her father was the critic and essayist Clifton Fadiman, and she grew up in a literary household, making castles out of the books in her father's library. Her collection of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998), is about her deep love of books.

It's the birthday of the journalist Jane Kramer, (books by this author) born in Providence, Rhode Island (1938). She's known for the many long pieces she's written for The New Yorker magazine about teenagers in Morocco and cowboys in Texas and Allen Ginsberg and Europe. She's the author of the book Lone Patriot (2003).

On this day in 1846, Gustave Flaubert (books by this author) wrote a stunning letter to his lover, poet Louise Colet.

The two writers met at a sculptor's studio in Paris. Colet was married when she and Flaubert began their wild love affair. She'd gotten married young, to a Parisian professor of music, in order to escape a life in the French countryside. Once in Paris, she became a famous poet. During the eight years of his affair with Colet, Flaubert wrote his masterpiece Madam Bovary, about a woman who seeks out adulterous affairs in order to escape from provincial life.

On this day in 1846 — 164 years ago today — Flaubert wrote to Colet:

"Separated, destined to see one another but rarely, it is frightful ... and yet what is to be done? I cannot conceive how I managed to leave you ... your image will remain for me suffused with poetry and tenderness, as was last night's sky in the milky vapours of its silvery mist. This month I will come to see you, I will be with you one big whole day [...]

"You are certainly the only woman that I have loved. You are the only woman that I have ventured to wish to please. Thank you, thank you [...]"

The following day, Flaubert began another long intense letter to Colet. In it, he wrote:
"I'll arrive some evening about six. We'll set the night ablaze! I'll be your desire, you'll be mine, and we'll gorge ourselves on each other to see whether we can be satiated. Never! No, never! Your heart is an inexhaustible spring, you let me drink deep, it floods me, penetrates me, I drown. Oh! The beauty of your face, all pale and quivering under my kisses!"

**Translation Note**

The first letter (Aug. 7, here beginning "Separated, destined" is translated by John Charles Tarver and appears in his Gustave Flaubert as seen in his works and correspondence, published in 1895.

The second letter (Aug. 8, beginning with "My Deplorable mania") is translated by Francis Steegmuller and appears in The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830-1857, published in 1979.

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

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Sharon Olds at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »