Brain Pickings

Marilyn Monroe’s Unpublished Poems: The Complex Private Person Behind the Public Persona

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“Only parts of us will ever touch only parts of others.”

Did you ever begin Ulysses? Did you ever finish it? Marilyn Monroe did both. She took great pains to be photographed reading or holding a book — insistence born not out of vain affectation but of a genuine love of literature. Her personal library contained four hundred books, including classics like Dostoyevsky and Milton, and modern staples like Hemingway and Kerouac. While she wasn’t shooting, she was taking literature and history night classes at UCLA. And yet, the public image of a breezy, bubbly blonde endures as a caricature of Monroe’s character, standing in stark contrast with whatever deep-seated demons led her to take her own life.

But her private poetry — fragmentary, poem-like texts scribbled in notebooks and on loose-leaf paper, published for the first time in Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters (public library) — reveals a complex, sensitive being who peered deeply into her own psyche and thought intensely about the world and other people. What these texts bespeak, above all, is the tragic disconnect between a highly visible public persona and a highly vulnerable private person, misunderstood by the world, longing to be truly seen.

Only parts of us will ever
touch only parts of others —
one’s own truth is just that really — one’s own truth.
We can only share the part that is understood by within another’s knowing acceptable to
the other — therefore
so one
is for most part alone.
As it is meant to be in
evidently in nature — at best though perhaps it could make
our understanding seek
another’s loneliness out.

Life —
I am of both of your directions
Life
Somehow remaining hanging downward
the most
but strong as a cobweb in the
wind — I exist more with the cold glistening frost.
But my beaded rays have the colors I’ve
seen in a paintings — ah life they
have cheated you

Oh damn I wish that I were
dead — absolutely nonexistent —
gone away from here — from
everywhere but how would I do it
There is always bridges — the Brooklyn
bridge
– no not the Brooklyn Bridge
because
But I love that bridge (everything is beautiful from there and the air is so clean) walking it seems
peaceful there even with all those
cars going crazy underneath. So
it would have to be some other bridge
an ugly one and with no view — except
I particularly like in particular all bridges — there’s some-
thing about them and besides these I’ve
never seen an ugly bridge

Stones on the walk
every color there is
I stare down at you
like these the a horizon —
the space / the air is between us beckoning
and I am many stories besides up
my feet are frightened
from my as I grasp for towards you

Beyond her poems, the rest of Monroe’s intimate thoughts collected in Fragments are equally soul-stirring. Writing in her famous Record notebook in 1955, she echoes Kerouac’s famous line, “No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge”:

feel what I feel
within myself — that is trying to
become aware of it
also what I feel in others
not being ashamed of my feeling, thoughts — or ideas

realize the thing that
they are –

In her 1955-1956 Italian diary engraved in green, she writes:

I’m finding that sincerity
and trying to be as simple or direct as (possible) I’d like
is often taken for sheer stupidity
but since it is not a sincere world —
it’s very probable that being sincere is stupid.
One probably is stupid to
be sincere since it’s in this world
and no other world that we know
for sure we exist — meaning that —
(since reality exists it should be must be dealt should be met and dealt with)
since there is reality to deal with

In 1956, Monroe traveled to London to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl. She stayed at the Parkside House, a luxurious manor outside the city, and used the hotel stationery for her thoughts:

To have your heart is
the only completely happy proud possession thing (that ever belonged
to me) I’ve ever possessed so

I guess I have always been
deeply terrified at to really be someone’s
wife
since I know from life
one cannot love another,
ever, really

Some of her undated notes live between the discipline of the to-do list and the expansive contemplation of philosophy:

for life
It is rather a determination not to be overwhelmed

for work
The truth can only be recalled, never invented

Tender, tortured, thoughtful, the texts in Fragments hint at what Brooklyn-based novelist Arthur Miller, whom Monroe eventually married, must have meant when he said that she “had the instinct and reflexes of the poet, but she lacked the control.”

Images courtesy of FSG // thanks, Sean

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