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The hare and the limousine and the verb

Thursday, 24 August, 2017

“All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences… A line like ‘The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,’ is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement — the limping, trembling and freezing is going on before your eyes.” So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter Scottie in 1938 and you can find the exchange in F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing.

The image of a hare limping through frozen grass is found in the writing of one of the major influence on Fitzgerald’s work, the Romantic poet John Keats. It’s in the first verse of his great, 42-stanza poem, “Eve of Saint Agnes“, and Fitzgerald was so taken by it that he began a magazine story titled “Love in the Night”, that was published on 14 March 1925 in The Saturday Evening Post, thus: “The limousine crawled crackling down the pebbled drive.”

St. Agnes’ Eve — Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

By the way, the evening before the feast of Saint Agnes (St. Agnes’ Eve) falls on 20 January.


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