Friday, March 18, 2011

GETTING TO KNOW MARK TWAIN


Last night we watched a Mark Twain documentary on Netflix (Have I mentioned how we adore Neflix? Documentaries! Independents! Foreign Films! Seriously, it's almost overwhelming.)

Samuel L. Clemens was quite a guy. And for all his adventures, he endured a great deal of heartbreak too. And lost fortunes. And he hated the lecture circuit! Who knew? But he loved his custom-made home in Hartford, Connecticut. (Totally on the to-do list! Harriet Beecher Stowe's home is in Hartford, too. And Caragh O'Brien, who is just plain WONDERFUL as a writer and friend invited me. Yay!) For all his writings that mocked the wealthy, he certainly enjoyed a certain lifestyle. It's almost like he had a split personality: there was Samuel, and there was Mark Twain. No matter which hat he was wearing, he was completely fascinating.

Of course me being me, I was most interested in the heartbreak. Probably the most tragic time for him was the death of his oldest daughter Susy. She died in 1896 at the age of 24 while he was off on the international year-long lecture tour to earn enough money to pay off his debts.

Samuel (I think it was Samuel and NOT Mark Twain) had these words engraved on her tombstone:

Warm summer sun,
shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind,
blow softly here,
Green sod above,
lie light, lie light,
Good night, dear heart,
Good night, good night.

For many years those words were attributed to Mark Twain. Actually they were borrowed from a poem written by Robert Richardson entitled "Annette" that was published in 1893, three years before Twain’s daughter died.

While writing his autobiography, Twain said that he could not remember the author’s name, and apparently he was uncertain of the exact wording of the poem. But as soon as he learned of "Annette" he added the author’s name to the tombstone without changing the verse, although it was slightly incorrect.

Richardson’s original words are as follows:

Warm summer sun, shine friendly here
Warm western wind, blow kindly here;
Green sod above, rest light, rest light,
Good-night, Annette! Sweetheart, good-night!

Twain's daughter Susy was his favorite, according to the documentary. Maybe because she was also a writer and wrote adoringly of her father. I'm a sucker for father-daughter stories, and I have been known to write adoringly of my writer-father, so this spoke to me.

If you'd like to know more about Mark Twain -- and Samuel -- crank up the Netflix! Good stuff. Happy Poetry Friday. Roundup is at Andromeda's!

7 comments:

  1. Interesting post. I didn't know about the poem on Susy's grave. We like Netflix, too. Although at the moment, we're stuck on an old TV series.

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  2. susy's biography of her father is a recent picture book by barbara kerley called the extrodinary mark twain (according to susy). you can see her fondness for him, and understand his loss.

    given twain didn't have the internet for verification, his memory wasn't that bad (i don't know if i could quote a three year old poem today!), and he wasn't that far off.

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  3. I enjoyed this post, and will plan to make a trip up to Hartford to see his house.

    Thanks to David, too, for mentioning the recent picture book, which is now on my to-read list.

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  4. I think I've seen the same Mark Twain documentary--what an incredible life he had. I found it interesting how by the end of his life he had turned into a character himself--Samuel Clemens had disappeared and now he was Mark Twain. So much success and so many tragedies too.

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  5. Twain's house in Hart6ford is a marvel...and you can walk across to Harriet Beecher Stowe's house (much more modest!) easily. I'm debating whether to get the new Twain autobiography, maybe for summer reading.

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  6. David, I thought of Barbara Kerley's book, too. I'll bring a new layer when I come back to it again, thanks to you, Irene.

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  7. Great post, Irene. Don't know if PBS television in AL is showing programs about Mark Twain tonight and this week, but they are in GA. Check your local listings. Also love anything father-daughter...miss my dad a bunch.

    OMG... congrats on being amongst the finalists for Southern Breeze region of crystal kite awards!!! So deserving :-)

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