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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 absence, while I live;
But after that, my dear, I cannot swear.
Hehhehheh…did you start off thinking this is the sappiest poem ever? Did you get it?
Dorothy Parker is famous for her wit and her one-liners. Basically, she has a reputation for being a big smart mouth. I find a lot of her work, especially her stories, kind of sad. Her female characters seem to struggle against forces they can’t even identify, let alone control. I guess what she saw, and put in her stories, got her irritated.
Whenever you read a poem, it’s important to pay attention to the title and the last line. If the title of the poem is the same as the first line of the poem, you have to make sure that the line wasn’t just put there by the editor. You often see this with Emily Dickinson. As far as I can tell, Dorothy Parker named all of her poems, so this title “counts”.
Speaking of Emily Dickinson, Parker seems to be parodying her here. The title of the poem is the poem’s first line, which is not usual for Parker. The use of dashes, and the whole tone of the poem is also like Dickinson.
Ironically, Dickinson’s poems quite often do end with a biting undertone that is similar to Parker’s…people who see her poetry as kind of soft and flowery aren’t paying enough attention…but what seems different here to me is the punch that comes with the change in the types of words used. The rest of the poem’s language is what I think of as “flowery”, but then both the first and the second stanza have a comma in the middle and then end with words that don’t fit with the rest of the stanza: the word “swear” at the end of the first stanza and “terrified” at the end of the second don’t seem to go with words like dolefully, gallantly, throb, and verse, which are used in the middle of the stanzas.
Do you see it?
Try reading the entire poem out loud (poetry really screams to be read out loud).
Just to make sure it’s Parker and not you just making what I just told you come to life, try reading it with the most pretentious tone that you can muster. Imagine the most stuck up fool you can think of, and try to read the poem as that person would. Go ahead, do it, and don’t read the rest of this post until you have.
I’m putting this cool video from Prince in just to break your line of vision. Watch it now or watch it later, whatever you like. Just don’t look down until you’ve read the poem again.
It’s also kind of fun if you read the poem with the intro to this song in the background, just saying. I think Parker would want you to have fun with this for sure. You do you.
Just don’t look down yet.
Did you read it? Were you really stuck up about it? Were you able to maintain your tone during the last line of each stanza?
Apparently Dorothy Parker didn’t like to be known as a smart mouth. But for someone to be able to cut that hard with just words on a page…That is a gift. Her writing shows what we all have in us, well, I have it in me. I just wish I could use it like that.
The funny part of this poem, if you didn’t see it already, is that the tone of the speaker in most of the poem is passive aggressive, intended to make the man feel bad without actually saying anything bad. You can just picture the male listener wanting to roll his eyes. But at the end of the poem, the speaker is saying, “The heck with you! I’m playing the game because I have to, but be warned, I’ll get mine in the end!” Heheheh.
Now go and enjoy your day.
This poem came from Dorothy Parker’s first collection, called Enough Rope, which is now out of print. I found it in the collection above. You can also find this poem at poemhunter.com.
The above collection includes stories, poems, and magazine articles that Parker wrote.
Above is her complete collection of poetry. Below is her complete collection of stories, for which she is actually more well known.