I haven’t read “The Waste Land” for a year, and I never did bother to check all the footnotes. But I will hazard these statements — Eliot contains the same ecstatic vision which runs from Münzer to Yeats ...Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance. (Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.) And this fatalism is born out of the relation between fertility and death, which I touched on in my last letter — life feeds on itself. A fatalism I share with the western tradition at times. You seem surprised at Eliot’s irreconcilable ambivalence; don’t you share this ambivalence yourself, Alex?
— Barack Obama, to girlfriend Alex McNear
The discovery by Vanity Fair of this cache of — well, not to put too fine a point on it — slightly jerkish-sounding-in-retrospect letters to ex-girlfriends seems like a prime time to consider the epistles of other presidents to their former girlfriends. I was lucky enough to secure a few.
It turns out that jerkish-sounding-in-retrospect letters come with the territory. If John Adams’s missives to Abigail were uniformly delightful, rife with petticoat despotisms, it was only because he sent strange-sounding things to his ex-girlfriends along the lines of:
Once Again I fail utterly to Comprehend what Milton meant but I REFUSE to look into the Dictionary on account of Noah Webster has Not Yet Written It.
It was the same with others:
I am finding this passage of Goodnight Moon troubling. Sense thematic resonances with Very Hungry Caterpillar. Have you read that? If not, you should. In Goodnight Moon, the narrator says good night to so many things. There’s no logic or order to it. It all seems random. Could be a commentary. And who’s this rabbit?
— George W. Bush
I read a book. It was good. How are you?
— “Silent Cal” Coolidge
I haven’t read Seneca for a year, and I didn’t consult the footnotes, but more importantly, I hear you have a cherry tree that needs chopping down, and I am willing to take full responsibility. If you take my meaning.
— George Washington
You looked amazing last night and I fantasized about a future where I would sit in a bathtub built for four normal-sized men surrounded by you and others of your kind. How much mayonnaise we would consume, together! How lovingly I would stack the lunchmeats! How many breads of varying qualities would I sacrifice upon the altar of your perfection!
I dream someday of being a Supreme Court justice. Under those robes no one can tell how many sandwiches you have consumed.
William Howard Taft
Do you know how special, how wonderful, how beautiful you are? You’re going to be a great president — and an even better ex-president.
Enclosed please find some of my thoughts about lamplight and humanity.
They are too beautiful for prose. I think you’ll understand.
There seemed to be a feeling in the house
that something was there in the corners
in the dark corners
just beyond the light
like a warm and friendly vapor
coming back from days before--
Grandpa, maybe, or one of the hands
who used to work for us.
White boss or black servant
it wasn’t very clear.*
*Actual poem by Jimmy Carter
I haven’t read “The Waste Land” in years, but Ted Sorensen did and he wrote up these great notes on it which I’m enclosing under my own name.
ANY OR ALL OF THE FOLLOWING BRACKETED PHRASES: [You’re really hot. ]
[I’d like to land on that moon, if you take my meaning.]
[I like you almost as much as I hate saying the letter R at the ends of words. ]
[Carrying a torch for you which I do not intend to pass to a new generation of Americans any time soon,]
-John F. Kennedy