Sep. 24, 2002

To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick

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Poem: "To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time," by Robert Herrick.

To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
      Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
      To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
      The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
      And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
      When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
      Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
      And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
      You may for ever tarry.

On this day in 1930, Noel Coward's play Private Lives opened in London, with Coward and Gertrude Lawrence in the lead roles. The play features the second most famous balcony scene in theater, in which a husband and wife who have divorced each other discover that they've reserved adjacent suites in the same French hotel. The most famous line: "Extraordinary how potent cheap liquor is."

It's the birthday of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). He's the author of Tender is the Night, The Jazz Age, and The Great Gatsby, in which Nick Carraway says: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired." In 1922, when he was living on Long Island, Fitzgerald was introduced to the columnist Ring Lardner, and for the next two years, they spent a lot of time together. Fitzgerald got Maxwell Perkins to publish a collection of Lardner's writing; he suggested some of the pieces he thought should be included, and came up with the collection's title, How to Write Short Stories. Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda had one daughter, Scottie, who grew up in a whirl of parties and excursions, and then was sent away to boarding school when her mother checked herself into a mental hospital and her father couldn't keep her at home anymore. Fitzgerald wrote her many letters; in one, he wrote: "Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat…the redeeming things are not 'happiness and pleasure' but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle." By the time she was a student at Vassar, Scottie had stopped reading the letters altogether; she said it was too painful. She took the envelopes, ripped them open, and dumped them out on the table to see if there were any checks in them. Then she stuffed the letters into a drawer. Fitzgerald said "An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next and the schoolmasters of ever afterward." He was a great "maker-of-phrases," and he was a great journalist of his time. He wrote about Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic: "In the spring of '27, something bright and alien flashed across the sky. A young Minnesota who seemed to have nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought their old best dreams."

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