My father used to reminisce about “the aunts” who lived in North Carolina, devoted sisters never separated from each other, even by marriage, or from the family home. These may be the two sisters who were so fond of sales at the downtown stores that one of them fell down the stairs and broke her ankle in her rush to get there. If so, you’ll meet them again in “The Blue Box: Three Lives in Letters” which Sarabande Books will publish in 2014.
Whatever their actual identity, these sisters, my father remembered, always sang and accompanied themselves on the piano at this time of year in a duet to the dying of summer, called “The Last Rose of Summer”:
“’Tis the last rose of summer left blooming alone,
All her lovely companions are faded and gone.”These sisters, my father remembered, always sang and accompanied themselves on the piano at this time of year in a duet to the dying of summer, called “The Last Rose of Summer”
I have two of these final blooms, one white, one red, in my garden here I Santa Fe.
“The Last Rose” joins a group of poems I memorized as a girl, all built around the theme of transience, a word, and a thought, that seem to have dropped away:
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still aflying,
And this same flower that blooms today tomorrow may be dying.”
I didn’t quite believe that sentiment, but it seemed that everyone else did, and so it must hold a truth that would be revealed to me later; as it has been.
I found these poems and many like them in Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, illustrated by Maxfield Parrish, a cherished present. In an assured print, I wrote on the fly leaf, “I like these poems very much. I have larned some of them”—that was the way the verb was pronounced in Kentucky.
I was nine years old.
John Milton’s “Allegro”, all four pages, earned high praise, but less than “Lord Ullin’s Daughter” by “T. Campbell”: “I think this is the very finest poem in this book. I lerned it.”
Chasing his eloping daughter, the father finds her drowning in the sea: “One lovely arm she stretched for aid, And one was round her love.” Even at nine, I knew I would have to choose.
The last lines of Shakespeare’s Fourteenth Sonnet—“For fear of this, hear thou, thou age unbred Ere you were born, was beauty’s summer dead”—inspired this comment “Strang for a lover to say.”
After all, I was only nine.
Palgrave’s has accompanied me through many moves and many more changes, but I know better than to pass it along to my grandchildren. They would be hard pressed to read its 373 pages, full of archaic languages and thoughts, although the girls might resonate to these final lines from another Shakespeare song:
“When birds do sing hey ding a ding:
Sweet lovers love the spring.”
I wrote, with a nine year old’s certainty, “I geass that’s the time to be married.”