Jan. 28, 2003

This is the Garden

by E. E. Cummings

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Poem: "This is the Garden," by e.e. cummings from Complete Poems: 1904-1962 (W.W. Norton).

This is the Garden

this is the garden: colours come and go,
frail azures fluttering from night's outer wing
strong silent greens serenely lingering,
absolute lights like baths of golden snow.
This is the garden: pursed lips do blow
upon cool flutes within wide glooms, and sing
(of harps celestial to the quivering string)
invisible faces hauntingly and slow.

This is the garden. Time shall surely reap
and on Death's blade lie many a flower curled,
in other lands where other songs be sung;
yet stand They here enraptured, as among
the slow deep trees perpetual of sleep
some silver-fingered fountain steals the world.

It is the birthday of (Sidonie Gabrielle) Colette, born in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, France (1873). At the age of 20, she married an older man, a writer and critic who employed a number of ghostwriters. He convinced Colette to write down stories about her childhood -- and embellish them with juicy details. When she did, he published them in his name as Claudine at School (1900), the first novel in the Claudine series, about an outspoken, clever young woman who discovers a love affair between the headmistress and one of the younger female teachers. Colette's early writing was forced labor; her husband locked her in a room until she had produced enough pages for the day, and he kept the royalties. After fleeing her husband in 1906, Colette became a Parisian music-hall performer infamous for baring one breast while dancing. At the Moulin Rouge, she caused even more controversy when she took a woman into a passionate embrace. The show caused a riot. The curtain had to be brought down early, and Colette became the talk of the town. The scandals continued; later, she had an affair with her stepson. Still, Colette continued to write at least one book a year, producing more than 80 volumes, including Chéri (1920), My Mother's House (1922) and Sido (1930). Proust admired her, and wrote to her to say that her novella Mitsou (1930), about a music-hall artist who falls in love with an officer on leave, had moved him to tears. She was one of the great "cat ladies" -- she kept up to two dozen in her house. Her novel, La Chatte (The Cat, 1933), deals with a kind of love triangle between a man, a woman, and a cat. In 1944, at the age of 72, she published Gigi, about a spontaneous young girl who is trained, by courtesans, in "the honorable habits of women without honor" -- how to choose the right wines, eat fancy food, look after one's hygiene. Adapted for the theater in 1951, with a young Audrey Hepburn in the title role, and made into a movie, it became her best-known work. When she died in 1954 Colette was denied a Catholic funeral, but thousands attended the state funeral provided by the French government -- the first for a woman. A plaque on her house in Paris reads, "Here lived, here died Colette, whose work is a window wide open on life." She said, "Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it." She said, "The lovesick, the betrayed, and the jealous all smell alike," and "What a wonderful life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner."

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