Writing Her Life (1934-1939)

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Editor: Michelle Lee
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 110. )
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 10,402 words

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[(essay date 2003) In the following essay, Jones details the events of Wickham's life in the period leading up to the writing of her "most bitter and probably most honest" autobiographical poem, "Life Story."]

At age fifty-one, Anna was a lively mother, an excellent friend to the arts, a highly original poet whose lines ranged from sledgehammer-strong to ethereally delicate, and at times a woman in the grip of despair. The next years would be spent in writing her story, over and over again. But one of the first things she had to do was release herself from the hold that Natalie Barney had on her imagination.

"Song" and Natalie had not seen each other since around 1931, but letters and poems had continued. Anna hoped to see Natalie in a proposed visit to London around the end of 1933, promising dancing herons for Natalie and "all the taxi-men to adore you," but then Anna turned "ill and liable to die like Descartes of my lungs" and the meeting never took place.1

In April 1934 Natalie wrote fondly, "I'm always glad to see your writing because it has conveyed so much to me that is new and inspired."2 One day in May of 1934 Anna retrieved her mail to find a letter inviting her to Paris. The paintings of Natalie's mother, Alice Pike Barney, were going to be displayed in Paris and Natalie wanted Anna to be present. Anna, busy with Tour Bourgeoise, did not go. But the letter that she wrote to Natalie on Sunday, May 27, though signed, "Your affec. Anna," has a cold clarity that sets it apart both from some of the raving letters she had written and certainly from the passionate ones.

You will forgive me for speaking to you emotionally for the last time. Without your O.K. I shall not write to you again--& for this reason--When I met you eight years ago I had so much pleasure from contact with your mind, from your society & from the observation of your spirit--that I feared to drown of happiness. Fear tinged my behavior to you with protective eccentricity--In presenting to you who are so good a judge of truth something that was spurious, there was a shade of impertinence. I don't think this impertinence harmed you--for you are immune from it--But it hurt & lessened & strumpeted me--I had always been afraid of happiness. ... Even in my silences there will be Truth--(a little arrogance perhaps in my speech!)--I no longer fear to drown. I will therefore write for you--if you tell me to [crossed out] ask me [penned in above].3

The last lines of another Wickham poem, "P. P. C.," also show her freeing herself artistically and emotionally from Barney: "Now my aspiration's new / I'll not dream again from you."4

Another letter, undated, shows part of the process of Anna coming to her senses in regard to Natalie. In this case a somber epiphany during an encounter...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420100928