(1896–1940). The novels and short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald are famous for portraying the “lost generation” of the post–World War I era. They depict the rich, disenchanted youth of what he called the Jazz Age.
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 24, 1896, the only son of Edward and Mary Fitzgerald. His father was a descendant of Francis Scott Key, author of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy and the Newman School, in New Jersey. After entering Princeton University in 1913 he wrote for student publications. In November 1917 Fitzgerald left college to enlist in the Army. While stationed in Montgomery, Ala., he fell in love with Zelda Sayre.
Following his release from the Army in 1919, Fitzgerald worked for an advertising agency in New York City for several months. After Zelda broke their engagement, he returned to St. Paul to rewrite a novel he had worked on when he was in the Army. The novel—This Side of Paradise—was published in 1920. The first chronicle of flaming youth, it brought Fitzgerald fame, money, and marriage to Zelda.
To maintain the luxurious life he and his wife liked to lead, Fitzgerald wrote at a furious pace. In 1920 he published Flappers and Philosophers, a volume of short stories. His second novel, The Beautiful and Damned, and Tales of the Jazz Age appeared in 1922. In 1924 the Fitzgeralds moved to Europe, where Fitzgerald wrote his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. Typical of his work, it glorified romance and disillusionment, and the dialogue was flawless.
In 1930 Zelda suffered a breakdown, a step on the way to her insanity. The family returned to the United States in 1930. Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is the Night was published in 1934. It failed to sell, and Fitzgerald felt defeated. In 1936 he wrote about his emotional state in The Crack-up.
Fitzgerald went to Hollywood in 1937 to write scenarios for motion pictures. On Dec. 20, 1940, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He had begun a novel about Hollywood, called The Last Tycoon. The unfinished work, published in 1941, was another attempt to create his dream of the promises of American life and of a man who could realize them.
“Fitzgerald, F. Scott,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
We listen’d and look’d sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steerman’s face by his lamp gleam’d white;
From the sails the dew did drip—
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.
In what might be the best country song ever written, Don Williams sings this verse:
“Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does
But you ain’t afraid if you’re washed in the blood like I was
The smell of cape jasmine thru the window screen
John R. and the Wolfman kept me company
By the light of the radio by my bed
With Thomas Wolfe whispering in my head”
What Do You Do With Good-ole Boys Like Me resonates with every southern man over 50 and most of the rest because it gets at the essence of our boyhood. The verse is important because it is informed by another tale of southern boyhood, Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe, who indeed whispers in our head.
When Wolfe died, William Faulkner said he was the greatest writer of their time.
Few have really read this book because it isn’t easy reading. It’s written in stream of consciousness style reminiscent of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Wolfe was criticized for his unapproachable style but remained unrepentant. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to him suggesting shorter novels, but Wolfe’s reply letter was 8 times longer than Fitzgerald’s.
Angel does, however get right at the marrow and rewards good ole boys willing to stick with it. Wolfe’s title was almost Alone, Alone, borrowed, he said, “from the poem I like best, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; then it evolved to O, Lost!; finally, when his publisher asked for something more inspired, Wolfe went to Milton:
. . . Ay me! Whilst thee the shores, and sounding Seas
Wash far away, where ere thy bones are hurld,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world;
Or whether thou to our moist vows deny’d,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded Mount
Looks toward Namancos and Bayona’s hold;
Look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
Milton’s angel in Lycidas was St. Michael; the statue in LookHomeward, Angel was of a different sort, based on one that Wolfe’s father had purchased for his tombstone shop. The actual Wolfe statue has been identified on the grave of the wife of a Methodist minister in the Asheville, North Carolina area, and is today a stop for the literary traveler.
When you finish this great book, then read You Can’t Go Home Again.
John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
“I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation- a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every states I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”
When my wife and I visited the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, I was surprised by what turned out to be my favorite item. I’ve been a Steinbeck fan since I was introduced to him by way of The Pearl in seventh grade English. No other writer commands his sense of place and his eye for landscape in context of character is matchless. I read his masterpiece East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath a few summers ago. The museum memorabilia of these works and other favorites like The Red Pony certainly delighted me, but my heart was captured by an old GMC pickup with a large white camper on back.
Travels with Charley is one of those books I’ve always sort of known about but never truly considered. I knew he wrote it at the end of his career, and that was about it. Seeing the truck, which he named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse, made me dig in and boy am I glad I did. The book is about a 3 month, 10,000 mile road trip of America Steinbeck made with his French Poodle Charley.
In 1960 the world was exploding and Steinbeck was feeling lost. He was 58 years old and his health was failing. His masterworks were behind him and (what turned out to be) his final novel, The Winter of Our Discontent was finished. In letters to friends Steinbeck stated that he wrote Winter to address the moral degeneration of American culture. This of course was not a new theme for him and his social activism often had him on defense during the red paranoia of the McCarthy era.
John Steinbeck’s son Thom later said the real reason for the trip was that his dad thought he was dying and wanted to see the country one last time. I think that’s a disservice to the author. The fact is, Steinbeck lived almost another decade and remained active in using his celebrity to influence social cause. The book itself is clearly a blend of nonfiction travelogue and contrived conversations with people encountered along the way. It gives me no pause that some of them may be composites to give the author a vehicle to air out his story.
Standing back over fifty years later, it’s easy for me to see his agenda. Travels with Charley is a wake-up call to America. Steinbeck mined the heart of our country in search of its character and ultimately discovered more about himself than us. He realized near the end of the trip that his experience was entirely subjective and that he only really found what he brought to it. To his credit, the last years of his life found him actively engaged with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson as well as Martin Luther King Junior, among others.
He was out there still.
A few months after Steinbeck’s trip, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide. When Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize several months later, he called his friend William Faulkner (a previous winner) for a little advice about what to say. Faulkner said he couldn’t offer much help because “I was drunk at the time”. In just a matter of weeks Faulkner was dead too – largely from drinking himself to death as F. Scott Fitzgerald did a decade earlier.
In a private journal entry Steinbeck complained about the tendency – specifically here, Faulkner – for famous writers to lose touch with people.
“A letter today enclosed an interview with Bill Faulkner which turns my stomach. When those old writing boys get to talking about The Artist, meaning themselves, I want to leave the profession. I don’t know whether the Nobel Prize does it or not, but if it does, thank God I have not been so honored. They really get to living up to themselves, wrapped and shellacked. Apparently they can’t have any human intercourse again.”
The self destructiveness of his contemporaries isn’t easily summarized, but a large measure must be placed on their brooding, angst-riddled and egotistical introspection. Steinbeck stands apart because he found the balance. He understood that yes, wisdom is gained only by the clear eyed examination of one’s heart, but he also knew that none of it mattered if it didn’t benefit other people – specifically, the common man.
To know Steinbeck is to know a man driving Rocinante down the highway with his shirt sleeves rolled up, one arm out the window, engaging the world.
The Lilac is an ancient Shrub But ancienter than that The Firmamental Lilac Opon the Hill Tonight— The Sun subsiding on his Course Bequeathes this final plant To Contemplation—not to Touch— The Flower of Occident. Of one Corolla is the West— The Calyx is the Earth— The Capsule’s burnished Seeds the Stars— The Scientist of Faith His research has but just begun— Above his Synthesis The Flora unimpeachable To Time’s Analysis— “Eye hath not seen” may possibly Be current with the Blind But let not Revelation By Theses be detained—
1 Corinthians 2:9–10
But as it is written:“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,Nor have entered into the heart of manThe things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
We all want a rich life. We also know the futility of trying to create it with things that don’t last. The stack of books on my desk tells me we aren’t the first to feel this way, from the nihilistic skepticism which figures so strongly in the novels of writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose The Great Gatsby chronicles a sad cycle of adultery, suicide and murder amid the supposedly lighthearted atmosphere of the Roaring Twenties to Ernest Hemingway’s failed romances and alcoholic anti-hero which usually end up in something like the atmosphere of his ironically titled short story “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” There the young waiters counsel suicide and old waiters mockingly pray, “our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name,” or “Hail nothing, full of nothing, nothing is with thee.”
William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury alludes to and is fully developed around the imagery of Macbeth’s despairing, dying proclamation that life itself “is a tale / told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / signifying nothing.”
In refreshing contrast, Emily Dickinson’s poem 1241, references 1 Corinthians 2:9, one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible which says
“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
In her poem (popularly titled The Lilac Is An Ancient Scrub) she takes an exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven.
When we brush up against God, we know it.
True enough, because Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.”
We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
D I G D E E P E R
Lilacs in the Sun and Lilacs, Grey Weather
Claude Monet painted these two canvases in the garden of his first home in Argenteuil, near Paris, in spring 1872.
Characters are seated under a bush of lilacs in bloom. One of the two paintings is done when the sky is overcast, the other one when the sun shines. For the first time, Monet put his easel on the same spot to study changes in the light. His intention is made clear by the titles he chose.
According to Sylvie Patin, Chief Curator of musee d’Orsay in Paris, where Lilacs,Grey Weather can be seen, these two works can be considered as the first step in direction of the series, a method Monet would apply systematically ten years later.
Like many of us, Emily Dickinson loved sunsets, “the Firmamental Lilac.” I live a few blocks away from Sunset Park, a narrow strip of grass and flowers perched on a hill above Puget Sound looking out toward the Olympic Mountains in the west. When the sun sets, especially during the summer, the park is full of neighbors who silently watch as the huge glowing orb steadily slips behind the mountains or sinks into the sea (depending on the sun’s position in the horizon). While the Psalms are full of appreciation for the presence of God in huge thunderstorms, I find sunsets one of the places where I am especially attuned to the goodness of God’s creation.
This poem has a deceptive opening, initially appearing to be another one of Dickinson’s flower poems. The syntactically simple first line is straightforward and blunt. The first thing about a lilac that comes to my mind is its sweet fragrance, but the poet singles out its age; it is “an ancient Shrub.” Dickinson’s garden at the Homestead had several lilac bushes, and their ancient quality is evidenced in the fact that some of these shrubs still bloom today, as you can see (and smell) if you visit Amherst in May. The “turn” that appears in so many of Dickinson’s poems shows up already in the second line of what, for Dickinson, is a long poem: “But ancienter than that / The Firmamental Lilac.” Firmament is a grand-old, King-James-Bible, literary word for sky that permeates the Genesis 1 creation story. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” and separated light from darkness. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.… And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day” (Gen 1:1, 5–8). Sunset, the lilac of the sky, is as ancient as the second day of creation.
But the poem describes the sunset we are witnessing this evening, “The Sun subsiding on his Course” over a nearby hill, which “Bequeathes this final plant.” The day is dying, and the expiring sun leaves as a last inheritance “The Flower of Occident,” the flower of the west. Unlike the ancient shrub of the opening line, however, this plant cannot be physically grasped, or touched. It is left us for “Contemplation.” The stanza breaks here, and the meditation follows in the second stanza.
That meditation opens with an unpacking or explicating of the controlling metaphor of the first stanza: lilac = sunset. Precise botanical terms are used: the corolla is the collective term for the petals of a flower that form a ring around the reproductive organs and are surrounded by an outer ring of sepals; the calyx is the group of sepals, usually green, around the outside of a flower that protects the flower bud; and the capsule is the fruit containing seeds that are released when the flower is mature. Think about a dandelion: its gold petals, green sepals, and mature feathery seeds that are carried away by the wind. Similarly, as a lilac’s flowers fade they develop into brown seed pods. In the sunset, the pinks and lavenders of the western sky are the petals, the green earth the calyx, and the glowing evening stars that gradually emerge are the burnished (shimmering) seeds, as the dying sun gives birth to other distant suns.
This explication uses technical scientific terms, which Dickinson knew from her study of botany at Amherst Academy and employed in constructing her herbarium, and she now mockingly terms herself a “Scientist of Faith,” who conducts “research” and performs the technical activities of “Synthesis” and “Analysis.” Such an approach is limited, however. The research “has but just begun,” and the “Flora” (another scientific term) is “unimpeachable,” impossible to discredit or challenge, so good that it is beyond reproach. Neither unpacking the metaphor nor scientifically explaining flowers/sunsets capture the full glorious reality, which can only be perceived for oneself. Twenty poems about sunsets do not even begin to approach the beauty of a single living sunset.
Line 17 quotes 1 Cor 2:9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The poet takes exception to this verse, suggesting that it “may possibly / Be current with the Blind,” but those who are capable of seeing a sunset might have experienced a glimpse of heaven. Indeed, Paul continues in verse 10, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” We are able to imagine, to see in images, what God has prepared for us because of the work of the Spirit. “Let not Revelation / By Theses be detained,” the poem concludes, referring both to Paul’s account of revelation of the Spirit as well as the Book of Revelation, which uses vivid images to describe the heaven that is to come. Theses, argumentative propositions associated with analysis and synthesis, ought not to detain the magnificent revelation of God granted to us through a sunset. If we open our eyes of faith, with the help of the Spirit, we will see God.
Susan VanZanten, Mending a Tattered Faith: Devotions with Dickinson, ed. Clayton J. Schmit and J. Frederick Davison, Art for Faith’s Sake (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 71–72
Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work-the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside-the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within-that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again.
In 54 AD the Roman Emperor Claudius died an excruciating death after suffering for twelve hours from poison slipped into his food by Agrippina, his fourth wife (who was also his niece – the mother of that sweet boy Nero). The ongoing soap opera that was ancient Rome has been rich fodder for literature, including the popular I, Claudius by Robert Graves. Even today, anytime someone is brought down by disaster, that person’s demise becomes the crowd’s entertainment. Just watch the nightly news and your blood lust can be satisfied by everything from horrific car wrecks to global war. Let’s hear from that person whose house just burned down!
It’s all entertainment until it happens to you.
The sad irony is that we are all fractured by life sooner or later. Some people flame out epically like a Roman emperor, but most people suffer quietly from the disappointments and loss that are inevitable to all of us. If there is an upside to this universal frailty, it is in our overwhelming need to love each other. This truth is so powerful, it was the single thing Jesus called out as the earmark of His followers. He said the world will know we are His by the love we have for each other.
Be kind today
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
D I G D E E P E R
Literature & Liturgy: Man of Sorrows
כָּאַב (kāʾab). vb. to be in pain, cause pain. Refers to being in a state of physical or mental pain or anguish.
This verb occurs several times along with its related noun, (כְּאֵב, kĕʾēb), to denote physical pain (e.g., Gen 34:25; Job 14:22) or mental anguish (e.g., Psa 69:29). The pain associated with the term often results from disappointment or disaster.
The notion of mental anguish is captured in Prov 14:13—“Even in laughter the heart may be in pain (יִכְאַב, yikʾab).” The related noun מַכְאוֹב (makʾôb) represents a more intense term for pain and suffering. When Israel suffers in slavery in Egypt, God sees their sufferings (מַכְאֹבָי, makʾōbāy; Exod 3:7). Job is racked with pain (מַכְאוֹב, makʾôb) on his bed (Job 33:19). This is the term used of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh to describe him as a “man of sorrows” who also bears “our sorrows” (Isa 53:3–4).
“He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:3–4, NKJV)
The “man of sorrows” of Isa. 53:5 is Jesus Christ. Christ himself understood his mission in the light of the servant’s atonement through suffering and patient endurance, and the early Church reinforced the connection. The description of the Passion and death of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels is colored by references to the “servant songs” (e.g., Matt. 8:17; Mark 15:28; John 19:9).
In his sermon of 1 July 1627 John Donne refers to Christ as the type of all sorrow: “who fulfil’d in himselfe alone, all Types, and Images, and Prophecies of sorrowes, who was, (as the Prophet calls him) Vir dolorum, a man compos’d, and elemented of sorrowes.” In another sermon (25 Aug. 1622) Donne asks that he himself be allowed to “be vir dolorum, a man of affliction, a vessell baked in that furnace, fitted by God’s proportion, and dosis of his corrections, to make a right use of his corrections.” In “Palm Sunday,” Henry Vaughan writes of “the man of sorrow / Weeping still, like the wet morrow,” who “comes to borrow” the “shades and freshness” of palm branches on his entrance into Jerusalem.
Melville takes quite a different approach when referring to the suffering servant in Moby-Dick: Ishmael suggests “that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undeveloped. … The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows.” Yeats’s “The Sad Shepherd” contains echoes of, if not direct references to, the man of sorrows in its description of “a man whom Sorrow named his friend” and who, because he was not listened to, could not be rid of the “ancient burden” of his “heavy story.” Joyce, in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (chap. 3), makes more traditional use of the image, as Stephen considers the contrast between the humiliation of the first advent and the glory of the Second Coming.
Other echoes from the “servant songs” occur in a variety of English texts. Wordsworth, in “Maternal Grief,” speaks of a small boy whose twin sister has died as suddenly “acquainted with distress and grief ” (Isa. 53:3). In his “Stanzas to Augusta [B]” Byron echoes the same passage: “Thy soul with my grief was acquainted. …” Perhaps the most influential use of the man of sorrows motif, however, is Handel’s magnificent setting of the final servant song in his Messiah.
Sources & Resources
Emmet, C. W. “Sorrow, Man of Sorrows.” In A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels. Ed. J. Hastings (1908), 2.665-68;
McKenzie, J. L., ed. Second Isaiah. AB 20 (1968);
North, C. R. The Suffering Servant in Deutero-Isaiah (1956);
Smalley, B. The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (1952; rpt. 1964).
David L. Jeffrey, A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992).
Hill, Craig, “Suffering,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexha
Art: On Air by Josephine R. Unglaubm
Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).