Dorothy Parker was an American extreme. Her loves gave the tabloids something to write about. She shocked the middle class morality of her time. She, by turns, failed to stay with her man, or failed to keep him with her. Desperately sad as some episodes of her life were, she was able to mock her own folly in them and turned them into stories and poems that had America laughing with her. She walked a very fine line between being seen as an outrageously clever - though baudy - character and becoming an object of pity and scorn.
But, in public at least, she kept to the profitable side of that line. She was one of the most sought after speakers; in America she was as popular as Mark Twain had once been.
This feat was possible only because, radical though her life was, she never quite lost the underpinnings of the morality which governed her audience and her own upbringing. As Leland Ryken has so well argued (Realms of Gold), comedy cannot work without common assent to a common morality. It was that sense of the right, and the clarity with which she saw herself out of sinc with it, that fueled her genius. Even in her most antagonistic work there is always a strong current of longing for something else: a longing for love to 'work,' for love to be eternal.
In the end we do not judge her for we always find that she has already judged herself.
I could post others of her poems, for many of them are brilliant, but for now I will stick to a few of her sonnets.
I Know I Have Been Happiest
I know I have been happiest at your side;
But what is done, is done, and all's to be.
And small the good, to linger dolefully--
Gayly it lived, and gallantly it died.
I will not make you songs of hearts denied,
And you, being man, would have no tears of me,
And should I offer you fidelity,
You'd be, I think, a little terrified.
Yet this the need of woman, this her curse;
To range her little gifts, and give, and give,
Because the throb of giving's sweet to bear.
To you, who never begged me vows or verse,
My gift shall be my absense, while I live;
But after that, my dear, I cannot swear.
Oh, let it be a night of lyric rain
And singing breezes, when my bell is tolled.
I have so loved the rain that I would hold
Last in my ears its friendly, dim refrain.
I shall lie cool and quiet, who have lain
Fevered, and watched the book of day unfold.
Death will not see me flinch; the heart is bold
That pain has made incapable of pain.
Kinder the busy worms than ever love;
It will be peace to lie there, empty-eyed,
My bed made secret by the leveling showers.
My breast repleneshing the weeds above.
And you will say of me, "Then has she died?
Perhaps I should have sent a spray of flowers."
I Shall Come Back
I shall come back without fanfaronade
Of wailing wind and graveyard panoply:
But, trembling, slip from cool Eternity--
A mild and most bewildered little shade.
I shall not make sepulchral midnight raid,
But softly come where I had longed to be
In April twilight's unsung melody,
And I, not you, shall be the one afraid.
Strange, that from lovely dreamings of the dead
I shall come back to you, who hurt me most.
You may not feel my hand upon your head,
I'll be so new and inexpert a ghost.
Perhaps you will not know that I am near--
And that will break my ghostly heart, my dear.
Because my love is quick to come and go--
A little here, and then a little there--
What use are any words of mine to swear
My heart is stubborn, and my spirit slow
Of weathering the drip and drive of woe?
What is my oath, when you have but to bare
My little, easy loves; and I can dare
Only to shrug, and answer, "They are so"?
You do not know how heavy a heart it is
That hangs about my neck--a clumsy stone
Cut with a birth, a death, a bridal-day.
Each time I love, I find it still my own,
Who take it, now to that lad, now to this,
Seeking to give the wretched thing away.
I've gotten one sonnet in answer to the Challenge. Anyone else want to write one to be posted on the 12th? If you don't know what I'm talking about, read "A Challenge" a few posts below.