On this first Poetry Sunday of December, let us consider three women whose lives have been presented to us in innumerable ways by innumerable admirers and critics.  Three women we will never know except by the words they have chosen. And, yes, three women born in the month of December.

It may seem odd to think that Carla Bruni, former model, actress and first lady of France, chose as lyrics poems by Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson, two of the pillars of  poetry written in English. Yet, all three enjoy reputations for far-reaching curiosity, artistic friends, independent spirits, and incalculable influence, and all represent the musicality of what Dickinson called  “the right words in the right order.”   Here are three women of December, two of whom (born five days apart) have long been immortalized and to whom the other (born almost a century and a half later) paid tribute on her album No Promises, released in 2007.

 

Promises Like Pie-Crust

Promise me no promises,
So will I not promise you:
Keep we both our liberties,
Never false and never true:
Let us hold the die uncast,
Free to come as free to go:
For I cannot know your past,
And of mine what can you know?

You, so warm, may once have been
Warmer towards another one:
I, so cold, may once have seen
Sunlight, once have felt the sun:
Who shall show us if it was
Thus indeed in time of old?
Fades the image from the glass,
And the fortune is not told.

If you promised, you might grieve
For lost liberty again:
If I promised, I believe
I should fret to break the chain.
Let us be the friends we were,
Nothing more but nothing less:
Many thrive on frugal fare
Who would perish of excess.

 —Christina Rossetti, born December 5, 1830

 

If you were coming in the fall

If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spum,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

—Emily Dickinson, born December 10, 1830


The recording of “Promises Like Pie Crust and a photo montage of Carla Bruni, born December 23, 1967.

 

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