I returned late last night from Acton, Massachusetts, where I read two poems at my Aunt Betsy Conant’s memorial service. One, my own selection, I shared in Sunday’s post. The other was sent by my father, who very much wanted to attend but was physically unable to.
He told me the following story about his selection. In 1948, when Betsy was 18 and my father was courting her older sister (my mother), they had talked about the poem. Betsy told him that it captured how she wanted to live her life. Sixty years later, when she was wrestling with multiple sclerosis and on the verge of dementia (although they didn’t know it at the time), they recalled the conversation and looked back at the intervening years. Betsy said she thought she had indeed lived her life that way. Everyone who knows her would agree.
The poem appears as the epigraph to The Great Gatsby and is attributed to Thomas Parke D’Invilliers. There is no poet named D’Invilliers, however. Fitzgerald wrote the poem himself:
Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry “Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!
I suppose Betsy’s lover was my uncle Brewster, who proposed to her in a Cesna. Even more, however, the gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover was life itself. She bounced along with it and danced with it for 80+ years, taking the rest of us along for the ride.