Matthew Arnold 1822 1888
Love, let us be true.
To one another! For the world, which seems.
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor helped for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plane
Swept with confused alarms of struggle in flight
Where ignorant armies clashed by night.
Dover beach, 1. 21
Romaine penned this poem of Arnold’s to Natalie in a letter. They were both pacifists. They lived through two world wars, the Spanish flu, and the atomic blast and the cold war. Romaine knew what living on a darling plane felt like. She was a fortress of self-reliance and rectitude when it came to facing life head-on. Although to date, nothing from the epidemic had survived in her letters, sheltering at home would not have been new to her or her circle. When she painted her lover Ida Rubinstein, the lady Gaga of her day as a Red Cross nurse she was expressing her feelings, their feelings, about the war, and the tragedy of seeing so many human beings wounded and dying. She depicted Ida who had courageously put aside her theatrical career, turned her home into a hospital for the wounded and dying, and gone on the road to raise money and morale for the people of France. Romaine’s health was not robust enough to allow her to participate physically but she contributed time, energy, and money to the cause. And, of course, her talents.
For those of us who are introverts and introspective by nature, you would think sheltering at home would cause little hardship but that is definitely not the case here at the epicenter where I am in lockdown. I miss so many small pleasures, especially now that spring has sprung. I miss the pleasures of walking freely about feeling the breeze on my face, nodding to neighbors, sharing a pastry, and coffee after a day spend researching or writing. I miss greeting friends with a big hug and sharing a glass of wine at Addictive or a meal at the Queensborough or Uncle Peters or Jackson Diner.
I am also disturbed by how many here are not taking the mandate to wear a mask seriously. The 40% of people dying or dead from the pandemic in my hood upsets me. I want to think human beings are better than they are. Romaine had no such illusions. She thought badly of most human beings and didn’t want to be around them. She told Natalie this straight out regarding Dolly Wilde and the people Natalie, who was very social invited to their hyphenated villa. She said she loved being with “Nat Nat” but when not with her she preferred being alone because other people’s energies interfered with her artist self.
So on her birthday, I salute our Mrs. Brooks and celebrate her wonderful body of work and hope with time we can all be unafraid together viewing her work and enjoying our lives in what will surely be the “new” normal. Now let’s blow out the candles on the birthday cake she and Natalie would be enjoying today and truly come together in this pandemic and be each other’s keepers until a various and new society emerges.