What is this poem about servants to the rich and drunk?
December 5, 2009 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Poemfilter: Trying to remember a poem I memorized at the last second and almost instantly forgot for an assignment in 10th grade.

In my fuzzy recollection, it was about some servants going about their morning routine while their Gatsbyesque employers slept it off. I remember thinking at the time that the hangover theme made it a rather odd choice for a high school English textbook. The opening lines were something along the lines of:

Having come in late and crashed the car door on the front gate,
Their young masters would not, they supposed, be coming down.

I thought for ages that it was Robert Lowell, but it doesn't appear to be one of his. I'm fairly certain the author's name was similar though - maybe Robert or Richard something.
posted by Dojie to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Could it be James Russell Lowell? I've been poking around a bit but I can't find the poem you're talking about...
posted by harperpitt at 4:22 PM on December 6, 2009

No, it's definitely a 20th century poet.
posted by Dojie at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2009

I know it's a long shot, but do you remember the name of your high school textbook? In the meantime, I'll keep Googling.
posted by AAAAAThatsFiveAs at 10:30 PM on December 6, 2009

Sorry - I don't remember a thing about the textbook.
posted by Dojie at 9:31 AM on December 7, 2009

At first I thought it might be Thomas Hardy's "In the Servants' Quarters," but none of your lines even come close to it. Do you remember if it was long or short? Did it seem to be older than say 100 years old? Richard Wilbur has several poems about servants, but I don't think any were from the point of view of the servants.
posted by mattbucher at 2:57 PM on December 7, 2009

I would guess two or three longish stanzas - maybe six to eight lines each (I know it took less than a full page in the book), but I can't guarantee that it wasn't an excerpt from a longer piece. It was definitely twentieth century - probably sometime between the 20s & 50s, probably American. It was fairly simple, straightforward language - not flowery or old-fashioned. I'm sure it wasn't Hardy. Richard Wilbur is a bit closer stylistically, but I don't think that's it either.

I think that is the absolute total of what I remember about the stupid thing. It's been bothering me for years, and now that the hive mind is having trouble coming up with it too, it's driving me up the wall. Not the first time I've wished I'd paid better attention in high school.
posted by Dojie at 7:18 PM on December 7, 2009

I FOUND IT! I'm 99% sure it's Richard Wilbur's "A Summer Morning."

It was published in the New Yorker in 1960, and you can see the first few words: "Her young employers, having got in late..."

Then I found a Google cache record of the text at this message board:

"A Summer Morning"

Her young employers, having got in late
From seeing friends in town
And scraped the right front fender on the gate,
Will not, the cook expects, be coming down.

She makes a quiet breakfast for herself.
The coffee-pot is bright,
The jelly where it should be on the shelf.
She breaks an egg into the morning light,

Then, with the bread-knife lifted, stands and hears
The sweet efficient sounds
Of thrush and catbird, and the snip of shears
Where, in the terraced backward of the grounds,

A gardener works before the heat of day.
He straightens for a view
Of the big house ascending stony-gray
Out of his beds mosaic with the dew.

His young employers having got in late,
He and the cook alone
Receive the morning on their old estate,
Possessing what the owners can but own.

-Richard Wilbur
posted by sallybrown at 9:30 AM on March 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

sallybrown, you are my hero! I can sleep again!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
posted by Dojie at 9:34 AM on March 15, 2010

Thank you for the challenge! Finding it made my day!
posted by sallybrown at 9:37 AM on March 15, 2010

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