Two Great Ladies of Verse

I finished reading two books recently by two female poets from the past. I had always wanted to read something by the 20th century writer Dorothy Parker, so I took out The Portable Dorothy Parker from the library. At the same time, I was reading Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete using the Kindle app on my iPad mini.

Parker, a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers who met at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City in the 1920s, was noted for her acerbic wit, cosmopolitan-themed short stories that rely on dialogue to carry the plot and poetry punctuated by both humor and pathos.

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker

The Portable Dorothy Parker serves as a good introduction to the author’s work, as it contains a mix of poems, short stories, book reviews and theater criticism. The stories feel dated to the time period Parker lived, but two stories, Big Blonde and A Telephone Call, are worth checking out.

I also felt a pang of sadness when reading this line in Parker’s New York Times obituary: “Miss Parker left no survivors.” No human survivors—but she did leave behind a lot of written material to explore.

The Portable Dorothy Parker

The Portable Dorothy Parker

In both collections, Parker and Dickinson give us little gems in verse form focusing on weighty themes like life, death and love, along with observations on a myriad of other subjects.

These brief poems—gleaming verbal diamonds—carry an authentic voice and pack emotional truth, and both women knew how to play with language in such a way as to delight readers.

I picked through both volumes and selected some short poems worth sharing. They can be consumed in small bites, such as while riding public transportation or waiting in the grocery store checkout aisle.

From The Portable Dorothy Parker:

The Small Hours

No more my little song comes back;
And now of nights I lay
My head on down, to watch the black
And wait the unfailing gray.

Oh, sad are winter nights, and slow;
And sad’s a song that’s dumb;
And sad it is to lie and know
Another dawn will come.

Godspeed

Oh, seek, my love, your newer way;
I’ll not be left in sorrow.
So long as I have yesterday,
Go take your damned tomorrow!

The Thin Edge

With you, my heart is quiet here,
And all my thoughts are cool as rain.
I sit and let the shifting year
Go by before the windowpane,
And reach my hand to yours, my dear . . .
I wonder what it’s like in Spain.

Experience

Some men break your heart in two,
Some men fawn and flatter,
Some men never look at you;
And that cleans up the matter.

My Own

Then let them point my every tear,
And let them mock and moan;
Another week, another year,
And I’ll be with my own

Who slumber now by night and day
In fields of level brown;
Whose hearts within their breasts were clay
Before they laid them down.

Two-Volume Novel

The sun’s gone dim, and
The moon’s turned black;
For I loved him, and
He didn’t love back.

Rhyme Against Living

If wild my breast and sore my pride,
I bask in dreams of suicide;
If cool my heart and high my head,
I think, “How lucky are the dead!”

News Item

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

And lastly, the following is one of my all-time favorite poems (right up there with Paul Laurence Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask and Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson), and Parker’s piece could be considered a companion poem or a bookend to Langston Hughes’ Suicide’s Note.

Resumé

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Parker, Dorothy. The Portable Dorothy Parker (Revised and Enlarged Edition). New York: Penguin Books, 1976. Print.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

And here are the selections from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete:

The Mystery of Pain

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.

With a Flower

I hide myself within my flower,
That wearing on your breast,
You, unsuspecting, wear me too—
And angels know the rest.

I hide myself within my flower,
That, fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me
Almost a loneliness.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

Simplicity

How happy is the little stone
That rambles in the road alone,
And doesn’t care about careers,
And exigencies never fears;
Whose coat of elemental brown
A passing universe put on;
And independent as the sun,
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute decree
In casual simplicity.

A Word

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.

The Inevitable

While I was fearing it, it came,
But came with less of fear,
Because that fearing it so long
Had almost made it dear.
There is a fitting a dismay,
A fitting a despair.
’Tis harder knowing it is due,
Than knowing it is here.
The trying on the utmost,
The morning it is new,
Is terribler than wearing it
A whole existence through.

Lost Faith

To lose one’s faith surpasses
The loss of an estate,
Because estates can be
Replenished, — faith cannot.

Inherited with life,
Belief but once can be;
Annihilate a single clause,
And Being’s beggary.

A Book

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Love

Love is anterior to life,
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath.

Dickinson, Emily. Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete. Kindle Edition.

 

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