The Poetry of Mrs. Tarkington

One of the central dramas of Booth Tarkington’s life was the death, at age 16, of his beloved daughter Laurel–the victim of a broken home, likely schizophrenia, and the loss of the will to live. It was a sad tragedy that nearly broke Tarkington’s own will… and also brought a premature end to the life of Laurel’s mother, Louisa Fletcher, who died only a year afterward. Tarkington and Fletcher had divorced in 1911, their marriage a casualty of Tarkington’s lifestyle, which at the time was given to an excess of drinking and indulgence in the culture of high society.

What I learned today, however, was that Fletcher had her own publishing career, a fact I discovered while researching a poem of Fletcher’s entitled “The Land of Beginning Again.” I will quote a bit from

Not all poems make it to the movies, but this one did. The poem started in a magazine, Harpers, and then made it to print in a collection of her works, with this most famous poem being the title of her 1921 book (that I now happily own) When Bing Crosby sang the lyrical-musical version of this poem in “The Bells of St. Mary” (if you have never heard it, you owe yourself this listen) as Father Charles “Chuck” O’Malley, well, it was just the thing to quiet the hearts, if not for three minutes, of worried mothers and fathers, and young wives, over their men across the sea, mopping up a world war. The song (1945) with words and music by Grant Clarke and George Meyer is based quite unmistably [sic], if not unashamedly, on the poem.

You can find the full text of the poem here. The article includes alternate inspirational stanzas written to conclude an otherwise downbeat poem.

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