I missed Poetry Friday last week because the kids had their last day of performing arts camp with a show for the parents followed by lunch. Great fun for all, especially watching my two youngest dance (not together…) the samba and the tango.
This poem has been on my mind for the past few weeks.
I meant to do my work today –
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand –
So what could I do but laugh and go?
* * *
Richard Thomas Le Gallienne was an English poet and critic, born in Liverpool in 1866. His circle of romanticists and Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde. He was also a member of the informal Rhymers Club of Fleet Street, established in 1890 by W.B. Yeats and Ernest Rhys, along with poets Ernest Dowson, Lionel Johnson, Arthur Symmons, John Davidson, T.W. Rolleston, Selwyn Image, and Edwin Ellis.
Widowed with a young daughter after not quite three years of marriage, in 1894 Le Gallienne married a second time, to Danish journalist Julie Norregard. They had a daughter, the noted actress, director, and producer Eva Le Gallienne, who was born in 1899. The couple divorced in 1902 and the following year Richard Le Gallienne moved to the United States, stating, “An American writer! Yes! there was my new flag waving over the doorway — the flag under which henceforward . . . I am to write my books.” Of Le Gallienne’s new enthusiasm, English critic Max Beerbohm wrote,
O witched by American bars,
Pan whistles you home on his pipes.
We love you for loving the stars,
But what can you see in the stripes?
Le Gallienne lived in the U.S. for 24 years, where he published the book of reminiscences, The Romantic ‘90’s (1925). But he was not as successful as he had hoped. According to The Dictionary of Literary Biography,
Although he made his home in the United States until 1927, his relationship to America, and to the twentieth century, was ambivalent. Having no affinity with either, he clung to old world values which, though still marketable in fashionable publications such as Cosmopolitan or Harper’s, were being left behind by writers disdainful of his sort of sentimental meditations upon daintily veiled sensuality. In 1922, the year of The Waste Land, the traditional lyrics of Le Gallienne’s A Jongleur Strayed were criticized for evading the problems of modern life. After spending over twenty-three years in New York struggling to support himself at journalism, book publishing, and lecturing, Le Gallienne became disenchanted with his adopted home where he had expected to make his literary fortune.
Le Gallienne moved to the romantic city of Paris, where he lived until 1935 and continued to avoid modernity. He wrote a weekly column, “From a Paris Garret,” for The New York Sun newspaper. These columns were collected in two volumes, From a Paris Garret (1936) and From a Paris Scrapbook (1938), Le Gallienne’s last book, which won the Commissariat General du Tourisme prize for the best book about France by a foreigner.
In 1935 he moved to the town of Menton on the French Riviera, home of a long established English colony; Le Gallienne’s old friend Aubrey Beardsley is buried in Menton’s hilltop cemetery, so too William Webb Ellis, said by some to be the inventor of Rugby (Yeats was buried in Menton as well, after his 1939 death there, but his remains were later removed to Ireland). Leaving only to spend the war years* in the safety of neutral Monte Carlo, Le Gallienne died in Menton in 1947 at the age of 81.
* According to Le Gallienne’s biographer Richard Whittington-Egan, during World War II, Le Gallienne and his third wife, “both now old and frail and frequently hungry, were offered tempting easements if he would only agree to broadcast for the Germans. Though exiled for nearly half a century, he steadfastly refused.”