Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) wrote poems -- good ones, too -- as you'll learn if you pick up The Leonard Bernstein Letters, edited by Nigel Simeone (Yale University Press). And today is Lenny's birthday -- and STACEY'S! She had the good sense to pick the 18th of August to come into this world.
Sinatra sent Lenny birthday congratulations when he turned 70. The letter began: "Dear Genius."
The genius arrived ninety-six years ago on this day, and we can do worse than to honor him with a poem he wrote to and for Stephen Sondheim. Wunderkind Steve wrote the lyrics for Lenny's majestic music in West Side Story and the fellows remained close friends and good correspondents from that time on.
"Sorrowful Song" was written in 1986, when Lenny was 68. It was posted to Sondheim and was signed "Love, L":
I sat down and wrote a poem.
I looked at it and didn't like it much.
So I started
All over again,
Making (major and minor but) significant
I looked again and din't like it much better.
So I changed it back
To Version One
Which I wote last night,
And this is it.
The Leonard Bernstein Letters (ed. Nigel Simeone; Yale University Press) is a wonderful volume. The letters are to or from such luminaries as Serge Koussevitzky, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen, Betty Comden, Elia Kazan, Aaron Copland, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents, Arthur Miller, Richard Rodgers, Marc Blitzstein, James M. Cain, Aldous Huxley, Ingmar Bergman, Richard Avedon, Farley Granger, Jacqueline Kennedy, Andre Previn, Nadia Boulanger, Lena Horne, the late Lauren Bacall (who sang a Sondheim parody of Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's "Saga of Jenny" in the Tanglewood tribute to Lenny on his 70th birthday), and Sinatra, who saluted the Maestro's 70th with a toast in his act at a Reno night club. It's as good as a biography. Better, in fact.
I look forward to writing about Lenny at greater length soon. But it's his birthday and we can't overlook that.
Also great from Yale UP: The Richard Burton Diaries (ed. Chris Williams)-- DL