Every morning (well, almost) I dip into a wonderful light [sic] tome called Poem For The Day, which I picked up in Baggin’s Book Bazaar in the High Street, Rochester. It’s been in my possession for over a year and contributed to my already bulging wealth of pretty pointless knowledge – still, it’s good fun.
Today, I read that “American critic, poet and children’s writer Randall Jarrell was killed by a car whilst out walking” in 1965. This is terrible. I write, and I walk… a lot. Crumbs. Still, Mr Jarrell’s end is fairly tame compared with some that I can mention. For example, Frank O’Hara, a surrealist poet by all accounts (well, the one in the afore mentioned collection of poetry), was killed by a “beach buggy”. There you go. Which begs the question, how?
Most of the book, Poem For The Day, concerns itself with the deaths of writers, or mostly poets… and William Shakespeare and his extended family, servants, or anyone The Bard bumped into. The are some terrible tales, such as Marina Tsvetaeva’s suicide in 1941 (surrounded by family tragedy during the Great Terror purges in the Soviet Union in the 1930s) and the gravity of Wilfred Owen’s death, Killed in Action, on the 4th November 1918 (the Armistice came into effect on the 11th November that year).
But there are some curious demises for us scribes to ponder. For instance, Edgar Allen Poe was found in a street, in clothes that didn’t belong to him, and pretty ‘out-of-it’ (allegedly). Some say he was lying in a gutter, but other accounts refute that assertion. Either way, Mr Poe spent four days in a hospital before passing away. He was only 40 years old.
Tennessee Williams, like so many exceptionally talented and gifted writers, was well acquainted with various illegal substances, and probably legal ones too. Yet in spite of it all he gained the ripe old age of 71 years before the cap of an eye solution did for him. He choked on it. That’s why, my fellow scribes, you must always have a child with you when attempting to open difficult containers.
Mr Williams shares a curious death status with Sherwood Anderson. Ever heard of him? I hadn’t until I did the research for this piece. Apparently, he was quite influential. However, a tooth pick stabbed him in a colon. Perhaps he misused it somehow. The toothpick, not the colon.
There’s the untimely death of Sherwood’s sort-of-name-sake, a Dan Andersson, to contemplate. Born in Ludvika, Sweden, in 1888, Dan died in Stockholm in 1920, aged just 32, while staying in an hotel. Apparently, in Sweden in the early part of the twentieth century, it was customary to annihilate pests like bed-bug and cockroaches by fumigating the place with cyanide. It appears someone forgot to tell Mssr Andersson that his room was about to become a gas-chamber and more than the bugs got bitten.
In addition to these are the more infamous ends of Christopher ‘Kit’ Marlowe (killed in a brawl in Deptford over a bar-bill) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (drowned on a lake in Italy during a storm), and a plethora of tragic deaths (Virginia Woolf’s heartbreaking suicide in 1941) of that class of individuals who have furnished us with an amazing array of written works.
Bless you all: all those writers who have passed on, and to all of you who take up the pen in your own pursuit of creativity.
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