Who is there for me?

Elizabeth Smart in 1930
Photo by Graham Spry

When she wrote this entry in her journal, Elizabeth Smart was pregnant with the second of four children to fellow poet George Barker, a married man who, by the time of his death, had fathered fifteen children to four women. Smart essentially raised their brood alone, whilst somehow finding time to work for the Ministry and Defence and write, amongst other works, her opus, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept—an acclaimed prose poem published in 1945 that was inspired by her tortured relationship with Barker, a man she found impossible to let go. A month after penning this note, their son arrived. In August, Barker welcomed another two children into the world, born to someone else. That Smart was feeling defeated by it all comes as no surprise.

The Diary Entry

June 17, 1943

I picked these summer roses because they looked so disgusting waiting there desperately wanting the bees to come and fuck them.

On this lonely afternoon what is left of my youth gushes up like a geyser as I sit in the sun combing the lice out of my hair.

For it is difficult to stop expecting (‘what my heart first waking whispered the world was’) even though I am a woman of 31½ with lice in my hair and a faithless lover.

It is June 17 but the sun keeps going in and I have been frustrated too many times to be able to withstand its uncertainty. Who can I talk to? To whom can I show off my brilliance and my newly-brightened age or the cynicism I have made out of my despair instead of a dreary moaning and groaning?

Last night the pressure of my captivity and my helplessness made my brain reel, so that I felt dizzy and faint. Rats and rabbits die of indecision when an experiment forces them to be forced two ways. Why shouldn’t I die at the insolubility of my problems and the untenability of my position?

I need a house, a husband, money, a job, friends, furniture, affection, servants to look after the children, clothes, a car, a bicycle, a destination. Who is there for me? I see now I was the one-too-many. I was the mistake. The circumstances in which I find myself are marginal notes, never the text. It will revert to the simple narrative, what it was when it started, before I entered, far, far too positive of getting my just share.

In the thick hedgerows the summer flowers like their rapturous lives that have nothing to do with me.

Further Reading

There are two published volumes of Smart’s journals, and both are compelling:

To read some of Smart’s poetry, visit Hello Poetry.

I really enjoyed this piece on Smart, written by Dale Hrabi, and this touching essay by Smart’s son, Christopher, who was born weeks after this journal entry was written.

Journal entry excerpted from On the Side of the Angels: The Second Volume of the Journals of Elizabeth Smart, published in 1994 by Harper Collins. Edited by Alice Van Wart.

One response to “Who is there for me?”

  1. I have felt as she describes. It is a relief to understand what she’s saying, and to know those feelings are not a part of my present life.

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