January 19, 2005
first I went to college, I was one of those nerdish people called a
"grind." I worked hard on my studies, but my social
skills were severely underdeveloped. So it was not surprising
that I reacted the way that I did when I met Nancy.
me, she was a freshman who
dined at Oberlin's Dascomb Hall. But she was not like me.
She was attractive, talented, personable, and outgoing.
used my awkward first-year German to write a poem (which I kept to
myself, of course). It told of arising before dawn on a cold
morning, before anyone else was up, and thinking of the one who
"likes every one, not merely every task. When she speaks,
she smiles beautifully, she laughs merrily. She creates joy."
the purpose of warm remembrance, I made a little list of her
"crimes" of affability. One time at lunch, she and I
got into some sort of discussion about everyday chemistry, and she
ran up to her room to fetch some pH paper with which to settle the
question. Another time at dinner, she struck up a conversation
with me. She was enthusiastic on Wednesday, remembered on
Thursday to ask me how my basketball broadcast had gone, and wished
me a "happy breakfast" on Monday. I noted that I was
becoming addicted, because each smile, each pleasant bit of
conversation, led to the desire for more.
wrote in my notebook, as if I were writing to her:
"Throughout this semester, I've been observing you admiringly
from a distance. At first, of course, the reason was that you
are a very pretty girl, especially when you smile; such attractive
friendliness can't help but warm a frozen Oberlin heart. But it
soon became apparent that there was something more. You are
both friendly and industrious. You are both popular and a good
student. You have high ideals, intelligence, and talent
yet you make no show of it, and you try to remain as genuinely
interested in other people as you can. You don't
sacrifice scholarship for relaxation, for to you both are great fun,
and you find time to do justice to both. Enthusiastically you
sail through your days, brightening the lives of those who share
those days with you. And my life, too, has been brightened
saddened? Because she was out of my league. "You
wouldn't want me. Not very happy; not very much fun; not even
very friendly. Serious-minded. Introvert. A shadow
on your sunniness, a hindrance." It would be another year
before I even got up the self-confidence to start dating.
I in love with Nancy? Not really. I didn't actually know
her that well. At one point I noted,
love her smiles,
Not the singer.
still she inspired poetry in me, like this spontaneous and
undisciplined rhapsody (in blue) from April 1966. It was
perhaps prompted not only by the unusually fine spring weather but by
the color of her eyes and of a velvet dress that she sometimes wore
sky, blue sky, the Oberlin sky!
constrains you today: rise high!
Over Peters and King, happy sky, soar free!
A brilliant blue backdrop for every green tree
the red tile roof of the Quad!
the morning this morning so cloudless and clear?
easy: it shines because Nancy is here!
presence would shame any cloud far away,
what cloud would dare cloud a girl who's so gay
so pretty whenever she smiles?
Laughing, blue, gold and blue,
and smiles and happiness, blue,
Jim!" "Good morning!" Her gold and the blue,
golden, the sky's a bright blue,
if you're curious, has no special meaning here; the name is used
generically to denote another fellow student.
the same time, wallowing in my unrequited longings, I imagined
myself as an unworthy trinket. I filled several pages of my
notebook with the following allegory in four chapters.
Hast No Need for Me, My Love
lovely lady well deserves
A lovely, graceful song,
verse that glides with flowing ease
As flows the stream along.
as in Oberlin the one
And only stream's Plum Creek,
is my art most limited:
With ballads must I speak.
then, fair Nancy, listen well
To what I have to say.
not a love song that I sing
In my imperfect way,
a sigh in th'night, a lonely sigh
That longs for what can't be.
heed, dear princess, that thou might know
How some of us hold thee.
good King Anselm's realm there stood
castle built of stone;
goodly, worthy home it was
Anselm's royal throne.
high in th'southeast tower, where
sun's rays were the best,
the workshop of the Jeweler,
a wondrous skill possessed.
precious gems and metals rare
jeweler fashioned rings,
brooches, bracelets, torques,
other beauteous things
So wonderful that every maid
Who saw them gasp'd with awe.
They all agreed the Jeweler's craft
Was fine as e'er they saw.
Of course, these regal works of art
Were not for common maids;
'Twas only those of royal blood
Could wear these pearls and jades.
So thus it was, from time to time,
King Anselm's daughters fair
Came to the Jeweler's workshop
To choose a trinket there.
ev'ry jewel the Jeweler made
perfect, it was true;
there were some that lacked the fire
instance, once a silver disk
on his workbench laid
formed from it a plain round Brooch.
'twas expertly made,
had no art; 'twas but a disk.
almost was ashamed.
wonder then that in the shop
long remained unclaimed.
Back in a corner dark and bare
Lay the Brooch, so lonely there,
Inferior, and unaware
That soon would come a princess fair
name was Anne. The Princess Anne,
kind and lovely girl,
Anselm's favorite daughter and
castle's loveliest pearl.
quite so beautiful as some,
with a charming face
shone and sparkled when she smiled,
more than that, her inner heart
beauty's true abode:
happiness her heart was filled,
kindness it o'erflowed.
One morning came the princess to
The Jeweler's shop to browse,
To see if any trinket there
Her fancy would arouse.
The Brooch was sleeping, caring not
anyone was there,
For no one cared for him, and so
He could for no one care.
But suddenly a sunbeam shone
Upon him, and he woke
And glimpsed the Princess Anne! Forthwith
His cold heart, smitten, broke.
lovelier princess never breathed!
next to her, I'm sand.
what? She sees me! And she smiles,
takes me in her hand!"
little Silver Brooch, you have
pure and simple charm.
like you. See, your sheen is bright,
visage clear and warm.
smiles! She's beautiful! She laughs
soft caresses me!
lays me down again, yet smiles.
princess, I love thee!"
So, in his corner dark and bare
Ecstatically the Brooch did share
The joy of those few moments rare
When he was with the princess fair
was a Necklace next to him,
whom he breathed this word:
know no princess nice as Anne."
Necklace quite concurred:
speaks most kind to evryone,
you, I see.
surely you can't think shes fond,
there are many other jewels
handsomer, its plain.
yes, but give me time and soon
love alone I'll gain."
what, plain Brooch? Art thou so good
Shell running come to thee?
"Oh no, but Anne is mild and looks
For inner quality.
For outer handsomeness and show
She doesn't really care.
Simplicity and purity
Are what she values rare."
Rare, thou sayst? But are these rare?
there are many pure
simple handsome brooches here.
should she thee endure?
strangling Necklace, speak not so!
would she want of me?!
I not my own merit yet,
own, though small it be?"
course, my friend; a fellow good
art, and shalt remain.
Anne has seen that. But the point
labor to make plain
this: Youre not among the best.
surely it is clear
from the best will Princess Anne's
Back in the corner dark and bare,
The Silver Brooch did hardly dare
To think about those words. His prayer
Was that he'd win the princess fair
failed, of course. He had no chance.
Necklace spoke the truth,
there were many finer jewels
flatter Anne's fair youth.
Silver Brooch could flatter not.
sparkle as he might,
quality he simply lacked.
hopeless was his plight.
Anne did choose a lovelier brooch
Necklace said she would)
wore this brooch her whole life long,
life both blest and good.
And when the Silver Brooch did chance
To see Anne's happy face,
He thought of how she'd smiled at him
And of her winning grace,
And pain obsessed him, for he'd learned
Both how to love and care.
Deranged with longing, all he could
Was worship. Thus his prayer:
"Thou hast no need for me, my love,
Thou hast no need for me;
But yet, by all the stars above,
I have great need for thee.
help thee I cannot, my dear,
help thee I cannot,
thee there could, if thou wert near,
help to me be brought.
that could never be, nor should.
mustn't trouble thee,
thou art happy, sweet, and good,
happy without me.
then, as faintly in the night
toll the distant bell,
say to thee, in whispers light,
fair Anne, fare well."
So, in his corner dark and bare
Lay the Brooch, and perished there;
For, having touched the princess fair,
How could he for another care
enough, the real-life princess did choose another brooch. By
the time we were juniors, she was married.
I too moved on, to meet other talented and beautiful and friendly
females and to long hopelessly for them. As I wrote:
can't have you.
can't forget you."