F. Scott Fitzgerald: rare poem auctioned off; Gatsby opens tomorrow


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Journalists in television, radio, print and the internet LOVE to quote legendary American author F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Most often, the Fitz line they’ll use is: “there are no second acts in American life.” And then do a feature disputing the epigram. My favorite saying of F. Scott Fitzgerald was: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

And I use it every time I write a pros vs cons article; most recently when Northwestern was about to dismiss Bill Carmody.

With Baz Luhrmann remaking “The Great Gatsby, and the film being released tomorrow, buzz about the life and work of F. Scott Fitzgerald is going to increase. Leonardo DiCaprio will play Jay Gatsby in the movie. With the added media attention, this newly unearthed F. Scott Fitzgerald poem could bring in a lot of money at auction.

Unearthed from the estate of actress Helen Hayes, whom Fitzgerald became close to during the 1930s, Fitzgerald’s poem is written to Hayes’ daughter, Mary, who was almost 8 years old at the time.

Part of the 6-stanza poem reads,

“…What shall I do with this bundle of stuff
Mass of ingredients, handful of grist
Tenderest evidence, thumb-print of lust
Kindly advise me, O psychologist
She shall have music — we pray for the kiss
of the god’s on her forehead, the necking of fate
How in the hell shall we guide her to this…”

Interestingly, Helen Hayes left out one stanza — touching upon Zelda Fitzgerald’s mental illness — when she published this poem in her 1965 book, “A Gift of Joy.” The omitted stanza reads,

“Solve me this dither, O wisest of lamas,
Pediatrician – beneficent buddy
Tell me the name of a madhouse for mammas
Or give me the nursery – let her have the study”

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Zelda, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, was first committed to a mental institution in 1930 and just a year prior to this poem, was moved to a different one in Asheville, North Carolina, where she remained until her death. Zelda, along with numerous other inmates and hospital workers, tragically perished when the institution burned down. At the time F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this poem, in late 1937, he had just moved to Hollywood and fell in love with Sheilah Graham, although he never divorced Zelda. Even though Zelda had an extra-marital affair with a French aviator many years earlier.

“It’s likely that Helen Hayes was protecting her friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald, by removing a portion of the poem that she thought was too personal for public consumption,” said Sanders of Nate D. Sanders Auctions. “This part of the poem not only deals with Zelda’s confinement, but also his estrangement from her, and perhaps how it affected their own daughter.”

The poem’s sale lot also includes an additional, shorter, poem handwritten by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a signed first edition of “Tender Is The Night.” Photos of the poems, and the full transcripts, can be found here:

F. Scott Fitzgerald Handwritten Poem

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As much as I love The Great Gatsby, my favorite Scott book by far will always be This Side of Paradise, his first, and a quintessential bildungsroman. Unlike the crisp, easy flow of “Gatsby,” “Paradise” is a messy uneven book featuring a play and long passages of poetry like the prose now being auctioned off.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is my all-time favorite author and a hero to me. Literary critics describe his work as that of someone who wasn’t actually at the party filled with the super-rich, just someone allowed to look in from a window. Upon seeing the F. Scott Fitzgerald childhood home on Summit Avenue, the most fashionable street of St. Paul, I understand this analogy even further. The house is extremely modest middle class juxtaposed against the Avenue’s mega-mansions.

Today, a statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald is erected in St. Paul’s Rice Park, and even though he passed away in 1940, his work is immortal.

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an author and regular contributor to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter Football.com and Yardbarker.

Banks has appeared on the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@PaulMBanks)

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