(From Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke, 1943-63).
From Anathemas and Admirations. Translated by Richard Howard.
- All the dead that had ever been drowned in a certain lake to arise.
- Character of a man who, in himself and his external circumstances, shall be equally and totally false: his fortune resting on baseless credit,–his patriotism assumed,–his domestic affections, his honor and honesty, all a sham. His own misery in the midst of it,–it making the whole universe, heaven and earth alike, an unsubstantial mockery to him.
- Dr. Johnson’s penance in Uttoxeter Market. A man who does penance in what might appear to lookers-on the most glorious and triumphal circumstance of his life. Each circumstance of the career of an apparently successful man to be a penance and torture to him on account of some fundamental error in early life.
- A person to catch fire-flies, and try to kindle his household fire with them. It would be symbolical of something.
- Thanksgiving at the Worcester Lunatic Asylum. A ball and dance of the inmates in the evening,–a furious lunatic dancing with the principal’s wife. Thanksgiving in an almshouse might make a better sketch.
1. A hint of a story,–some incident which should bring on a general war; and the chief actor in the incident to have something corresponding to the mischief he had caused.
2. A sketch to be given of a modern reformer,–a type of the extreme doctrines on the subject of slaves, cold water, and other such topics. He goes about the streets haranguing most eloquently, and is on the point of making many converts, when his labors are suddenly interrupted by the appearance of the keeper of a mad-house, whence he has escaped. Much may be made of this idea.
3. A change from a gay young girl to an old woman; the melancholy events, the effects of which have clustered around her character, and gradually imbued it with their influence, till she becomes a lover of sick-chambers, taking pleasure in receiving dying breaths and in laying out the dead; also having her mind full of funeral reminiscences, and possessing more acquaintances beneath the burial turf than above it.
4. A well-concerted train of events to be thrown into confusion by some misplaced circumstance, unsuspected till the catastrophe, yet exerting its influence from beginning to end.
5. On the common, at dusk, after a salute from two field-pieces, the smoke lay long and heavily on the ground, without much spreading beyond the original space over which it had gushed from the guns. It was about the height of a man. The evening clear, but with an autumnal chill.
6. The world is so sad and solemn, that things meant in jest are liable, by an overpowering influence, to become dreadful earnest,–gayly dressed fantasies turning to ghostly and black-clad images of themselves.
7. A story, the hero of which is to be represented as naturally capable of deep and strong passion, and looking forward to the time when he shall feel passionate love, which is to be the great event of his existence. But it so chances that he never falls in love, and although he gives up the expectation of so doing, and marries calmly, yet it is somewhat sadly, with sentiments merely of esteem for his bride. The lady might be one who had loved him early in life, but whom then, in his expectation of passionate love, he had scorned.
8. The scene of a story or sketch to be laid within the light of a street-lantern; the time, when the lamp is near going out; and the catastrophe to be simultaneous with the last flickering gleam.
9. The peculiar weariness and depression of spirits which is felt after a day wasted in turning over a magazine or other light miscellany, different from the state of the mind after severe study; because there has been no excitement, no difficulties to be overcome, but the spirits have evaporated insensibly.
10. To represent the process by which sober truth gradually strips off all the beautiful draperies with which imagination has enveloped a beloved object, till from an angel she turns out to be a merely ordinary woman. This to be done without caricature, perhaps with a quiet humor interfused, but the prevailing impression to be a sad one. The story might consist of the various alterations in the feelings of the absent lover, caused by successive events that display the true character of his mistress; and the catastrophe should take place at their meeting, when he finds himself equally disappointed in her person; or the whole spirit of the thing may here be reproduced.
11. Two persons might be bitter enemies through life, and mutually cause the ruin of one another, and of all that were dear to them. Finally, meeting at the funeral of a grandchild, the offspring of a son and daughter married without their consent,–and who, as well as the child, had been the victims of their hatred,–they might discover that the supposed ground of the quarrel was altogether a mistake, and then be wofully reconciled.
12. Two persons, by mutual agreement, to make their wills in each other’s favor, then to wait impatiently for one another’s death, and both to be informed of the desired event at the same time. Both, in most joyous sorrow, hasten to be present at the funeral, meet, and find themselves both hoaxed.
13. The story of a man, cold and hard-hearted, and acknowledging no brotherhood with mankind. At his death they might try to dig him a grave, but, at a little space beneath the ground, strike upon a rock, as if the earth refused to receive the unnatural son into her bosom. Then they would put him into an old sepulchre, where the coffins and corpses were all turned to dust, and so he would be alone. Then the body would petrify; and he having died in some characteristic act and expression, he would seem, through endless ages of death, to repel society as in life, and no one would be buried in that tomb forever.
14. Canon transformed to church-bells.
15. A person, even before middle age, may become musty and faded among the people with whom he has grown up from childhood; but, by migrating to a new place, he appears fresh with the effect of youth, which may be communicated from the impressions of others to his own feelings.
16. In an old house, a mysterious knocking might be heard on the wall, where had formerly been a door-way, now bricked up.
17. It might be stated, as the closing circumstance of a tale, that the body of one of the characters had been petrified, and still existed in that state.
18. A young man to win the love of a girl, without any serious intentions, and to find that in that love, which might have been the greatest blessing of his life, he had conjured up a spirit of mischief which pursued him throughout his whole career,–and this without any revengeful purposes on the part of the deserted girl.
19. Two lovers, or other persons, on the most private business, to appoint a meeting in what they supposed to be a place of the utmost solitude, and to find it thronged with people.
20. Some treasure or other thing to be buried, and a tree planted directly over the spot, so as to embrace it with its roots.
From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.
I certainly enjoyed myself. The chow was all good, mostly, but the butter was rancid. The bed was hard but uncomfortable. The talk was over my head but there was some made sense—that part about my being a great guy for instance.
I got home sick at the stummuck but I do not blame you at all.
Will you tell the servents next time I like my soup hot and more of a sharp edge when they press my pants.
You said I only had to pay one buck for board but even that is too much when the service is not good. That black bean soup was rancid too, and mine had a beetle in it. Besides there wasn’t enough blankets and the only good one was stale like it had been used for a baby or something.
I liked all the people I met except that woman I had to slug at dinner. Tell her I hope she found her teeth in the tomato soup when they emptied it out. No gentleman should have done a thing like that but I cannot stand a warm stocking on my ankle under the table.
I’m sorry I shot the horse and dog but they kep me awake 1/2 the night and I come there for a rest. You will find a lot of cigar stubs in the refrigidaire as I did not know where to put them. I do not want them however so give them to one of the negro servants, you know the colored ones, not your uncle or aunt or anybody like that. The black ones.
I’ll tell you when I can come down again and we will have more of that fun in the dumb waiter—hey kid, you know? Only I’m sorry I left you between floors when I went to bed. I thot it would give you more time to cool off so you could get some sleep too.
All right kid and goodby and I know now you are not such a dumb cluck as you look like.
P.S. If you called that thing a cocktail then listerine is the Holy Grail.
From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks.
From the “Epigrams, Wise Cracks and Jokes” section ofd F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Noteboooks:
Suicide and wife arrive in Cuba.
Let’s all live together.
Debut—the first time a young girl is seen drunk in public.
He repeated to himself an old French proverb he had made up that morning.
A sleeping porch is a back room with no pictures on the walls. It should contain at least one window.
Kill the scrub sire is our slogan.
Why can’t you be square? Well, when I was young I used to play with old automobile tires.
Forgotten is forgiven.
If all your clothes are worn to the same state it means you go out too much.
American actresses now use European convents as a sort of female Muldoon’s.
You must stoop a little in order to jump.
For a car—Excuse my lust.
Andre Gide lifted himself by his own jockstrap so to speak—and one would like to see him hoisted on his own pedarasty.
(From Kafka’s Diaries).
Numberless things which humanity acquired in its earlier stages, but so weakly and embryonically that it could not be noticed that they were acquired, are thrust suddenly into light long afterwards, perhaps after the lapse of centuries: they have in the interval become strong and mature.
In some ages this or that talent, this or that virtue seems to be entirely lacking, as it is in some men; but let us wait only for the grandchildren and grandchildren s children, if we have time to wait, they bring the interior of their grandfathers into the sun, that interior of which the grandfathers themselves were unconscious. Often, the son already betrays the father and the father understands himself better after he has a son. We have all hidden gardens and plantations in us; and by another simile, we are all growing volcanoes, which will have their hours of eruption: how near or how distant this is, nobody of course knows, not even the good God.
—Fragment nine of The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche.
Among the Horses
I dreamed of a woman with no mouth, says the man in bed. I couldn’t help smiling. The piston forces the images up again. Look, he tells her, I know another story that’s just as sad. He’s a writer who lives on the edge of town. He makes a living working a riding school. He’s never asked for much, all he needs is a room and time to read. But one day he meets a girl who lives in another city and he falls in love. They decide to get married. The girl will come to live with him. The first problem arises: finding a place big enough for the two of them. The second problem is where to get the money to pay for it. Then one thing leads to another: a job with a steady income (at the stables he works on commission, plus room, board, and a small monthly stipend), getting his papers in order, registering with social security, etc. But for now, he needs money to get to the city where his fianceé lives. A friend suggests the possibility of writing articles for a magazine. He calculates that the first four would pay for the bus trip there and back and maybe a few days at a cheap hotel. He writes his girlfriend to tell her he’s coming. But he can’t finish a single article. He spends the evenings sitting outdoors at the bar of the riding school where he works, trying to write, but he can’t. Nothing comes out, as they say in common parlance. The man realizes that he’s finished. All he writes are short crime stories. The trip recedes from his future, is lost, and he remains listless, inert, going automatically about his work among the horses.
“Among the Horses” by Roberto Bolaño. Section 11 of his poem-novel Antwerp.
Once there was a whole lot of bird seed around the room because an author had adopted a chicken. It was impossible to explain to anyone just why he had adopted the chicken but still more impossible to know why he had bought the bird seed for the chicken. The chicken was later broiled and the bird seed thrown out, but the question of whether the man was an author or a lunatic was still unsolved in the minds of the hotel servants who had to deal with the situation. The hotel servants didn’t understand it. They didn’t understand how months later the author could write a story about it but they all bought the magazine.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Notebooks
More from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magical Notebooks—
143 Days of this February were white and magical, the nights were starry and crystalline. The town lay under a cold glory.
144 Dyed Siberian horse.
145 As thin as a repeated dream.
146 The sea was coming up in little intimidating rushes.
147 The island floated, a boat becalmed, upon the almost perceptible curve of the world.
148 Lost in the immensity of surfaceless blue sky like air piled on air.
151 On the great swell of the Blue Danube, the summer ball rocked into motion.
152 A circus ring for ponies in country houses.
153 The tense, sunny room seemed romantic to Becky, with its odor of esoteric gases, the faint perfumes of future knowledge, the low electric sizz in the glass cells.
154 A rambling frame structure that had been a residence in the 80’s, the country poorhouse in the 1900’s, and now was a residence again.
155 The groans of moribund plumbing.
156 The silvery “Hey!” of a telephone.
161 Whining, tinkling hoochie-coochie show.