Dorothy Parker’s Birthday

Today in Literary History —> Happy Birthday to Dorothy Parker, American poet, satirist and critic best known for her wisecracks and sharp wit. Her writing graced the pages of Vogue, VanityFair, and The New Yorker, and she was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a famous 20th century New York literary circle.

Following the breakup of the circle, Parker traveled to Hollywood to pursue screenwriting. Her successes there, including two Academy Award nominations, were curtailed when her involvement in left-wing politics led to a place on the Hollywood blacklist. Dismissive of her own talents, she deplored her reputation as a “wisecracker.” Nevertheless, both her literary output and reputation for sharp wit have endured. Born on this day in 1893…

FavoriteWriters #HappyBirthday #DorothyParker #AlgonquinRoundTable

Gizan Zenrai (儀山善来) – Japanese Death Poem

Died on the twenty-eighth day of March, 1878 at the age of seventy-seven

I was born into this world
I leave it at my death.
Into a thousand towns
My legs have carried me,
And countless homes—
What are all these?
A moon reflected in the water
A flower floating in the sky
Ho!

“Ho!” is a translation of the word totsu, a kind of challenging cry uttered at the moment of enlightenment.”

Sources: Japanese Death Poems

What Are Japanese Death Poems?

“In Japan, as elsewhere in the world, it has become customary to write a will in preparation for one’s death. But Japanese culture is probably the only one in the world in which, in addition to leaving a will, a tradition of writing a “farewell poem to life” (jisei) took root and became widespread. If we examine the wills left by the Japanese throughout their history, we occasionally find instructions and appeals to survivors concerning their moral or social conduct; usually, however, wills deal only with the division of property. It has been suggested, then, that the death poem is perhaps a kind of salutation. The Japanese learn hundreds of polite forms of address so as to be prepared for every possible social situation, and status and prestige are measured, to a great extent, by one’s ability to find the greeting most appropriate to the circumstances. Should we then regard death poems as a final salute to those who remain alive, the last act of politeness? In fact, death poems reveal that before death, the Japanese tend rather to break the restraints of politeness that hold them back during their lifetime; we must comb through hundreds of death poems in order to find one or two written in the style customary for polite greetings. Neither material nor social concerns come to the fore. Death poems seem to reflect, more than anything else, the spiritual legacy of the Japanese.

Dokyo Etan (道鏡慧端) – Japanese Death Poem

Dokyo, also known as Shoju Ronin, lived most of his life in a hut and refused to join the large monasteries. He saw in zazen, Zen meditation, the essence of the Zen way and used to deal harshly with believers who sought him out to hear so-called Zen doctrine. He would occasionally even draw his sword on them and drive them away, in keeping perhaps with his samurai origin. He is said to have once pushed the Zen master Hakuin from the pulpit when the latter rose to speak, whereupon Hakuin fainted from the force of the blow. For as long as Hakuin dwelt with him, Dokyo showed him no preference, and made him beg from door to door for his portion of rice like the other monks.

Dokyo wrote his last words while seated in the upright Zen position. Then he put down his brush, hummed “an ancient song” to himself, suddenly laughed out loud, and died.

Died on the sixth day of the tenth month, 1721 at the age of eighty.

Here in the shadow of death it is hard
To utter the final word.
I’ll only say, then,
“Without saying.”
Nothing more,
Nothing more.

Sources: Japanese Death Poems

Death and the Lady

This ballad is structured as a dialogue between Death and a woman, and is clearly intended for moral instruction. The implication is that the woman has led an extravagant, sinful life, and death has caught her before she has had the chance to reflect and pursue a more Christian lifestyle. The fact that this heavy-handed lesson is aimed specifically at women illustrates the Calvinist, paternalistic, sometimes misogynistic moral codes that prevailed in Scottish society of the time.

Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term ‘ballad’ eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.

This ballad was printed by J. Deacon sometime between 1683 and 1700. It was printed as The Great Messenger of Mortality, or a Dialogue betwixt Death and a Lady. The The Dance of Death (conversations between Death and his victims) was a popular theme throughout the 14th and 15th centuries and again in the 18th century.

Death:

‘Fair Lady, throw those costly robes aside,
No longer may you glory in your pride;
Take leave of all your carnal vain delight,
I’m come to summon you away this night.’

Lady:

What bold attempt is this? Pray let me know
From whence you come, and whither I must go.
Shall I, who am a lady, stoop or bow
To such a pale-faced visage? Who art thou?’

Death:

Do you not know me? I will tell you then:
I am he that conquers all the sons of men,
No pitch of honour from my dart is free,
My name is Death! Have you not heard of me?’

Lady:

‘Yes; I have heard of thee, time after time;
But, being in the glory of my prime,
I did not think you would have come so soon;
Why must my morning sun go down at noon?’

Death:

‘Talk not of noon! you may as well be mute;
There is no time at all for vain dispute,
Your riches, gold, and garments,jewels bright,
Your house, and land, must on new owners light.’

Lady:

‘My heart is cold; it trembles at such news!
Here’s bags of gold, if you will me excuse
And seize on those; and finish thou their strife,
Who wretched are, and weary of their life.

Are there not many bound in prison strong
In bitter grief? and souls that languish long,
Who could but find the grave a place of rest
From all their grief; by which they are opprest.

Besides there’s many with a hoary head
And palsied joints; from whom all joy is fled
Release thou them whose sorrows are so great,
And spare my life until a later date!’

Death:

‘Though thy vain heart to riches is inclined
Yet thou must die and leave them all behind.
I come to none before their warrant’s sealed,
And, when it is, they must submit, and yield.

Though some by age be full of grief and pain,
Till their appointed time they must remain;
I take no bribe, believe me,this is true.
Prepare yourself to go; I’m come for you.’

Lady:

‘But if, oh! if you could for me obtain
A freedom, and a longer life to reign,
Fain would I stay, if thou my life wouldst spare.
I have a daughter, beautiful and fair,
I wish to see her wed, whom I adore;
Grant me but this, and I will ask no more?’

Death:

‘This is a slender frivolous excuse!
I have you fast! I will not let you loose!
Leave her to Providence, for you must go
Along with me, whether you will or no!

If Death commands the King to leave his crown
He at my feet must lay his sceptre down;
Then, if to Kings I do not favour give
But cut them off, can you expect to live
Beyond the limits of your time and space?
No! I must send you to another place.’

Lady:

‘Ye learned doctors, now exert your skill,
And let not Death on me obtain his will!
Prepare your cordials, let me comfort find,
My gold shall fly like chaff before the wind!’

Death:

‘Forbear to call! that skill will never do;
They are but mortals here as well as you.
I give the fatal wound, my dart is sure,
And far beyond the doctors’ skill to cure.

Flow freely you can let your riches fly
To purchase life, rather than yield and die!
But,while you flourished here with all your store,
You would not give one penny to the poor.

Though in God’s name they sue to you did make
You would not spare one penny for His sake.
My Lord beheld wherein you did amiss,
And calls you hence, to give account of this!’

Lady:

‘Oh! heavy news! must I no longer stay?
How shall I stand at the great Judgement Day?’
Down from her eyes the crystal tears did flow,
She says, ‘None knows what I now undergo!

Upon my bed of sorrow here I lie!
My selfish life makes me afraid to die!
My sins are great, and manifold,and foul;
Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on my soul!

Alas! I do deserve a righteous frown!
Yet pardon, Lord, and pour a blessing down!’
Then with a dying sigh her heart did break,
And did the pleasures of this world forsake.

Thus may we see the mighty rise and fall,
For cruel Death shews no respect at all
To those of either high or low degree.
The great submit to Death as well as we.

Though they are gay, their life is but a span,
A lump of clay, so vile a creature’s Man!
Then happy they whom God hath made his care,
And die in God, and ever happy are!

The grave’s the market place where all must meet
Both rich and poor, as well as small and great;
If life were merchandise, that gold could buy,
The rich would live — only the poor would die.

Nobody-But-Yourself – e.e. cummings

“Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

~ e.e. cummings

Alone – by Maya Angelou

Alone

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

~ Maya Angelou, 1928-2014

Confessional Poetry

Confessional poetry is the poetry of the personal or “I.” This style of writing emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s and is associated with poets such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton. Lowell’s book Life Studies was a highly personal account of his life and familial ties and had a significant impact on American poetry. Plath and Sexton were both students of Lowell and noted that his work influenced their own writing.

The confessional poetry of the mid-twentieth century dealt with subject matter that previously had not been openly discussed in American poetry. Private experiences with and feelings about death, trauma, depression and relationships were addressed in this type of poetry, often in an autobiographical manner. Sexton in particular was interested in the psychological aspect of poetry, having started writing at the suggestion of her therapist.

The confessional poets were not merely recording their emotions on paper; craft and construction were extremely important to their work. While their treatment of the poetic self may have been groundbreaking and shocking to some readers, these poets maintained a high level of craftsmanship through their careful attention to and use of prosody.

One of the most well-known poems by a confessional poet is “Daddy” by Plath. Addressed to her father, the poem contains references to the Holocaust but uses a sing-song rhythm that echoes the nursery rhymes of childhood:

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time–
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

Another confessional poet of this generation was John Berryman. His major work was The Dream Songs, which consists of 385 poems about a character named Henry and his friend Mr. Bones. Many of the poems contain elements of Berryman’s own life and traumas, such as his father’s suicide. Below is an excerpt from “Dream Song 1”:

All the world like a woolen lover
once did seem on Henry’s side.
Then came a departure.
Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought.
I don’t see how Henry, pried
open for all the world to see, survived.

The confessional poets of the 1950s and 1960s pioneered a type of writing that forever changed the landscape of American poetry. The tradition of confessional poetry has been a major influence on generations of writers and continues to this day.

Sources: Poets.org