This piece on turning Emily Bronte’s poems into choral pieces led me in an odd direction. You know that obsession some rock fans have with stars who flame out early, especially at twenty-seven? Yeah, lit types have had that forever. And why not? We can only imagine what work brilliant young writers might have created had they lived. Instead, Bronte is always thirty years old, Christopher Marlowe twenty-nine, John Keats a shocking twenty-five, and D. H. Lawrence an antique forty-five. And you know what? Maybe that was as good as they would be. Maybe the year of the five great odes would never be surpassed had Keats lived to ninety. The romance, however, lies in not knowing. It permits us to dream.
Which means, as you remember from your Latin class, “seize the day.” What, no Latin? Me, neither. But I’ve been thinking lately about this poem by Robert Herrick, which is all about this. Why this sudden interest? Signs and portents have been abundant that the sun doesn’t stay its course. And of course, because this poem from the seventeenth century is perfectly understandable today. The painting? It’s a 1909 work by pre-Raphaelite artist John William Waterhouse, called “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May.” Wonder where he got that.
Hemingway said all of American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn. Close but three decades late. On July 4, 1855 a thin volume by a complete unknown containing twelve poems appeared to little fanfare. Leaves of Grass would grow to four hundred poems by the fifth edition, and it changed the national literary conversation forever. Three cheers, then, for that “barbaric yawp”!
Today’s birthday boy is a writer whose time may have come–and one whose time never quite comes. His strangeness might explain much about the current moment, but your choice of which work to read may say more about you than him. “The Metamorphosis”? “The Penal Colony”? “The Trial”? I think I’m opting for the bureaucratic morass of “The Castle.” The alienation is funnier there.
Here’s a link to three new translations in The Paris Review: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/04/12/and-other-creatures/