‘To Love Bravely’: Finding Marilyn in Her Poetry

Writing for Vulture, Marya E. Gates argues that ‘Marilyn’s truth was in her poetry’ (as collected in the 2010 book, Fragments.)

“In a note to herself, she remarks that one of her acting lessons requires her to “keep looking around“ and to observe ‘not only myself but others and everything.’ This work can be seen in one of my favorite poems in the collection, which begins with the deeply sorrowful lines, ‘Oh damn I wish that I were dead — absolutely nonexistent,’ before discussing how she might end her life. She continues by writing of her love for the Brooklyn Bridge, her enthusiasm for how beautiful everything looks from its heights and how peaceful she feels up there. She then contemplates finding an ugly bridge before concluding, ‘I’ve never seen an ugly bridge.’ There is sadness here, sure, but there is also a deep appreciation for life and a mordant sense of humor. It’s these little perceptions that make her poetry so rich and reflect the true complexity of her emotional life.

One emotion in particular recurs throughout her notebooks and poems: fear. On one page, she scribbled the famous Franklin D. Roosevelt quote ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ In another poetic list, she jots down some lines about the crippling fear she feels before shooting a scene: ‘Maybe I’ll make mistakes / people will either think I’m no good or laugh or belittle me or think I can’t act.’

One fragment reads, ‘My body is my body / every part of it.’

The fear of disappointing those around her fueled a perfectionism that left her labeled ‘difficult’ throughout her career. But she writes of ‘building myself back up’ by reminding herself of her achievements, even if the ‘bad is heavier to carry around’ … In one fragment, she contemplates how we can never really know what others went through in their early years and ‘what they drag with them.’ In another, she discusses the freedom of being onstage and how she finds assurance while performing because she will not be whipped or threatened or ‘not be loved.’

She also alludes to feelings of shame attached to being molested when she was younger and the subsequent punishment she seemingly received for the violations inflicted on her … In one of her most vulnerable notes, she reveals she always feared being a wife because ‘one cannot love another, ever, really.’ Still, she believed that ‘to love bravely is the best.’ Rather than perceive each marriage as a failure, perhaps the angle most aligned with her own beliefs would be to view them as acts of courage.

‘I believe in myself, even my most delicate intangible feelings,’ she wrote — the most any of us could hope for, really.”

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