Young poetess Dorothy Parker (1893-1967). Credit: Wikipedia Encyclopedia
Once more Netflix has opened the window to peep into the life of a great American author, poetess, literary critic and screenwriter. I’m referring to the famous Dorothy Parker, also known as “Dot” or “Dottie”. The movie which introduced me to Ms. Parker is Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Dorothy Parker remembers the heyday of the Algonquin Round Table, a circle of friends whose barbed wit, like hers, was fueled by alcohol and flirted with despair.
Dorothy Parker was born in the West End village of Long Beach, New Jersey, but lived most of her life in Manhattan. She could be called a true New Yorker.
She lived a roller coaster life, thirsty for a love that was afraid of her, insecure, and lonely. Her erratic life many times led to attempted suicides and a dependence on alcohol. During the 1920s Parker had extra-marital affairs, she drank heavily and attempted suicide three times, but maintained the high quality of her texts.
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
Parker was educated at a Catholic school. “But as for helping me in the outside world, the convent taught me only that if you spit on a pencil eraser it will erase in,” Parker said later in an interview. She moved to New York City, where she wrote during the day and earned money at night playing the piano in a dancing school.
In her later years, she would come to denigrate the group that had brought her such early notoriety, The Algonquin Round Table:
These were no giants. Think who was writing in those days—Lardner, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Hemingway. Those were the real giants. The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for a chance to spring them…. There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn’t have to be any truth…
Dorothy Parker Rothschild represents one of the most accomplished feminist and successful literary writers in women’s history. Existing from 1893-1967, she became known as one of the most brilliant writers from the early 1900s. As a sad woman, stung with depression and alcoholism her entire adult life, she had a successful and productive life. Literary historians agree that Ms. Parker is one of the most brilliant writers that revolutionized American thinking then and after.
Parker died alone on June 7, 1967 in the New York hotel that had become her last home. She left her estate to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
Below are several of her poems which define her as a person who was able to faithfully portray the 20th century urban foibles.
When you are gone, there is nor bloom nor leaf,
Nor singing sea at night, nor silver birds;
And I can only stare, and shape my grief
In little words.
I cannot conjure loveliness, to drown
The bitter woe that racks my cords apart.
The weary pen that sets my sorrow down
Feeds at my heart.
There is no mercy in the shifting year,
No beauty wraps me tenderly about.
I turn to little words- so you, my dear,
Can spell them out.
A Certain Lady
Oh, I can smile for you, and tilt my head,
And drink your rushing words with eager lips,
And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red,
And trace your brows with tutored finger-tips.
When you rehearse your list of loves to me,
Oh, I can laugh and marvel, rapturous-eyed.
And you laugh back, nor can you ever see
The thousand little deaths my heart has died.
And you believe, so well I know my part,
That I am gay as morning, light as snow,
And all the straining things within my heart
You’ll never know.
Oh, I can laugh and listen, when we meet,
And you bring tales of fresh adventurings, –
Of ladies delicately indiscreet,
Of lingering hands, and gently whispered things.
And you are pleased with me, and strive anew
To sing me sagas of your late delights.
Thus do you want me — marveling, gay, and true,
Nor do you see my staring eyes of nights.
And when, in search of novelty, you stray,
Oh, I can kiss you blithely as you go ….
And what goes on, my love, while you’re away,
You’ll never know.
Song in a Minor Key
There’s a place I know where the birds swing low,
And wayward vines go roaming,
Where the lilacs nod, and a marble god
Is pale, in scented gloaming.
And at sunset there comes a lady fair
Whose eyes are deep with yearning.
By an old, old gate does the lady wait
Her own true love’s returning.
But the days go by, and the lilacs die,
And trembling birds seek cover;
Yet the lady stands, with her long white hands
Held out to greet her lover.
And it’s there she’ll stay till the shadowy day
A monument they grave her.
She will always wait by the same old gate, –
The gate her true love gave her.
This last poem about a lover that never came to the gate, captured my heart. In Dorothy Parker’s work, you will find an aura of pessimism hovering over her words, and yet her want for love never ceased, until she closed her eyes for the last time. Good Day.
Additional Reading: Dorothy Rothschild Parker 1893-1967
Read Full Post »