Feb. 11, 2013
The February Bee
The bumblebee crept out on the stone steps.
No roses. Nothing to gather.
Nothing but itself, the cold air,
and the spring light.
It rubbed its legs together
as if it wished to start a fire
and wear its warmth.
Under its smart yellow bands
the black body shone like patent leather.
It groomed itself, like a pilot
ready for takeoff and yet not ready:
when my shadow fell over him
he flicked his wings, checking them,
and took off into the bare garden.
It's the birthday of writer Joy Williams (books by this author) born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts (1944). Williams went to college and grad school in the Midwest, but she decided she needed to live someplace more mysterious and exotic, so she moved to a trailer park in northern Florida, surrounded by swamps and alligators and snakes. She said: "I was miserable, of course. But it was all very good for my writing. It's good to be miserable and a little off-balance." The result was her first novel, State of Grace (1973), which got great reviews. Her fourth (and most recent) novel, The Quick and the Dead (2000), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Valentine's Day is this week, and we're celebrating with love letters from the literary world.
There are many prevailing popular perceptions of Emperor Napoleon of France — most of which began as British propaganda. While his name doesn't often conjure images of a sweet hopeless romantic who pined for an older woman, the letters he wrote to his beloved Josephine reveal as much. In December 1795, he wrote to her:
"I wake filled with thoughts of you. Your portrait and the intoxicating evening which we spent yesterday have left my senses in turmoil. Sweet, incomparable Josephine, what a strange effect you have on my heart! ... You are leaving at noon; I shall see you in three hours. Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire."
Napoleon and Josephine were married in 1796; he was 26 and she was 32, a widow. He wrote to her from all across Europe, when he was out waging military campaigns. The year they married he wrote to her:
"I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without embracing you; I have not so much as drunk one cup of tea without cursing the pride and ambition which force me to remain apart from the moving spirit of my life. In the midst of my duties, whether I am at the head of my army or inspecting the camps, my beloved Josephine stands alone in my heart, occupies my mind, fills my thoughts. If I am moving away from you with the speed of the Rhone torrent, it is only that I may see you again more quickly. If I rise to work in the middle of the night, it is because this may hasten by a matter of days the arrival of my sweet love. ... I ask of you neither eternal love, nor fidelity, but simply ... truth, unlimited honesty. The day you say 'I love you less,' will mark the end of my love and the last day of my life. If my heart were base enough to love without being loved in return I would tear it to pieces. Josephine! Josephine! Remember what I have sometimes said to you: Nature has endowed me with a virile and decisive character. It has built ours out of lace and gossamer. Have you ceased to love me? Forgive me, love of my life, my soul is racked by conflicting forces.
My heart, obsessed by you, is full of fears which prostrate me with misery ... I am distressed not to be calling you by name. I shall wait for you to write it. Farewell! Ah! If you love me less you can never have loved me. In that case I shall truly be pitiable.
P.S. — The war this year has changed beyond recognition. I have had meat, bread, and fodder distributed; my armed cavalry will soon be on the march. My soldiers are showing inexpressible confidence in me; you alone are a source of chagrin to me; you alone are the joy and torment of my life."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®