Sex, Love and… Death
Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Saturday, January 1, 2011
While in junior and high school, I would peruse my parents’ collection of books, many of which were college texts from their undergraduate days at Auburn University, which was then called Alabama Polytechnic Institute.
As many young men may, I dreamt of love, perhaps more specifically, of romance. And what is romance? Indeed, what is romance – especially to a young boy?
Being fond of studying the origin and derivation of words – a field known as etymology – I often turn to etymological sources to assist my understanding or expression of a word, idea or concept.
Examining the word “romance,” we find it originated circa 1300, and is the “story of a hero’s adventures.” More particularly, it is derived specifically from the French, meaning the “”vernacular language of France” (as opposed to Latin), from the Old French ‘romanz,’ meaning “verse narrative,” and was originally an adverb, meaning “in the vernacular language.”" The idea or notion of the literary sense love was not applicable to the word until circa 1660′s – nearly 360 years later.
The “story of a hero’s adventures.” Indeed. Heroes… adventure.
And what young boy or young man is unadventurous? Why, the very idea itself is romantic, yes?
I recollect two poems, with two very distinct ideas which captivated my imagination. One was about affection, the other… death.
Jenny kiss’d Me
by James Henry Leigh Hunt, 1784–1859
JENNY kiss’d me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kiss’d me.
About Leigh Hunt:
A 19th century English essayist, critic, poet, and publisher, Hunt was not a renowned poet, though his poem “Jenny Kissed Me” has been enjoyed and has been often quoted for nearly two centuries. Hunt lived during an age of English Romanticism and was influential in the lives of such literary greats as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats, and was contemporary with Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Charles Dickens. Such great company has given Leigh Hunt a distinguished status.
Having earlier been imprisoned in his native England for printing criticism of King George IV, and later relocating with his wife and seven children to Italy for financial reasons, and then back, Hunt remained impoverished most of the rest of his life.
At age 75, Leigh Hunt died, well-remembered by his many friends. Contemporary and friend William Hazlitt, a painter and writer, said of him that “in conversation he is all life and animation, combining the vivacity of the school-boy with the resources of the wit and the taste of the scholar.”
And then, we have death. But how do we get here?
This next work, also impressed me as a young boy. It was only many years later in our late teens that my parents – after deliberately hiding that fact from my brother and me – shared with me that my maternal grandfather had committed suicide.
Why did he commit suicide? And, why did my parents hide that fact from me?
Apparently, he had become depressed after having lost a long-time job, and apparently, my now-late uncle, went out to the shed to call him for breakfast one morning, and found him dead from a self-inflicted shotgun blast.
The irony of it all, is that I have known several young men, and one woman – all friends – whom have tragically, for one reason or another, committed suicide.
by Edwin Arlington Robinson, 1869-1935
WHENEVER Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
About Edwin Robinson:
Like many creatives, Robinson endured a life of false starts and unfulfilled desires, and described his home life as “stark and unhappy.” Giving credence to his claim is the fact that he was unnamed until six months after his birth, and was then named by strangers at a vacation resort where his parents were staying – simply because his parents wanted a girl.
At age 21, he studied at Harvard and Cambridge universities, though only as a special student, with the objective of becoming published in a literary review. A Maine native, after two years of study, and following the deaths of his father and physician brother, he relocated there, and courted his late brother’s widow, hoping to marry her. After she twice spurned his affections and proposals for marriage, he moved to New York state, where he lived precariously, associating with other creatives and would-be intellectuals.
He hoped to surprise his mother with his first book which was self published, though she died only days before his books arrived. A saving grace, his work was noticed by then president Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt‘s son Kermit, whom also recommended the book to his father. Impressed with his work and dire conditions, the president secured a job for Robinson in the New York Customs Office, where he remained during Roosevelt’s term. One of his more renown works, the poem “Richard Corey,” was written in 1897, early in his literary career.
His literary work was acknowledged, and his eventual stardom was further propelled when he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1922, 1925 and 1928. Later, he became an artist in residence at the MacDowell Colony, where numerous women became affectionately devoted to him, though he spurned them, and remained unmarried the remainder of his life.