Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ben Bolt: A Song to Sing the Morning After

"Oh she wept with delight when he gave her a smile and trembled with fear at his frown."
--Scarlett O'Hara, movie version of Gone with the Wind

Right up until the point Rhett walks in the door and things go dramatically down hill, one of my favorite scenes from Gone with the Wind the movie is the "morning after" one, with Scarlett finding herself so giddy over the prior night's turn of events that she spontaneously breaks into song. But even after countless viewings, I must say Scarlett's little ditty still strikes me as both an endearing and odd selection. (Maybe it's just me, but I can't envision Scarlett O'Hara trembling with fear at any man's frown, not even the Devil's himself.)

So because it's a point that intrigues me, today the song in question finds itself as the topic of a blog post. In the scene you can watch below (double-click on the picture to watch the video), Scarlett is singing slightly modified lyrics to Ben Bolt (the original lyrics are "Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile/And trembled with fear at your frown?").  Written first as poem in 1843 by Thomas Dunn English, Ben Bolt was  later arranged into song by composer Nelson Kneass in 1848. It was a tremendously popular song in its day--and quite a sad one, too, for in it the narrator nostalgically mourns the passing of days gone and loved ones lost to his friend, Ben Bolt.  A recording of the complete song is available here and original sheet music here, and full lyrics are after the jump at the end.

From GWTW Videos

Edgar Allen Poe himself described Ben Bolt as possessing a "simplicity of diction and touching truthfulness of narrative." Not bad praise, especially considering Poe and English were bitter rivals. (Things got so intense between the two that Poe eventually sued the Evening Mirror for publishing an article with English's claims that Poe committed forgery.) 

And there you have it--the history behind Scarlett's "morning after" song. Looked at in context, it becomes an even more interesting musical choice for Selznick & Co. to have picked. For as Scarlett jubilantly sings some of the few upbeat lyrics from a song about loss, it's a subtle tell that we all won't get our happy ending here either--Rhett's about to walk in that door, kicking off another round of Butler marital dysfunction and moving us one step closer to the inevitable "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" conclusion. 

Ben Bolt 

DON’T you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt,—   
    Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown,   
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile,   
    And trembled with fear at your frown?   
In the old church-yard in the valley, Ben Bolt,           
    In a corner obscure and alone,   
They have fitted a slab of the granite so gray,   
    And Alice lies under the stone.   

Under the hickory tree, Ben Bolt,   
    Which stood at the foot of the hill,           
Together we ’ve lain in the noonday shade,   
    And listened to Appleton’s mill.   
The mill-wheel has fallen to pieces, Ben Bolt,   
    The rafters have tumbled in,   
And a quiet which crawls round the walls as you gaze           
    Has followed the olden din.   

Do you mind of the cabin of logs, Ben Bolt,   
    At the edge of the pathless wood,   
And the button-ball tree with its motley limbs,   
    Which nigh by the doorstep stood?           
The cabin to ruin has gone, Ben Bolt,   
    The tree you would seek for in vain;   
And where once the lords of the forest waved   
    Are grass and the golden grain.   

And don’t you remember the school, Ben Bolt,          
    With the master so cruel and grim,   
And the shaded nook in the running brook   
    Where the children went to swim?   
Grass grows on the master’s grave, Ben Bolt,   
    The spring of the brook is dry,           
And of all the boys who were schoolmates then   
    There are only you and I.   

There is change in the things I loved, Ben Bolt,   
    They have changed from the old to the new;   
But I feel in the deeps of my spirit the truth,           
    There never was change in you.   
Twelvemonths twenty have past, Ben Bolt,   
    Since first we were friends—yet I hail   
Your presence a blessing, your friendship a truth,   
    Ben Bolt of the salt-sea gale.       


  1. What a great find! This blog is such a marvelous treat for us Windies! You've given us culture, couture, food, architecture, and so much more!

    I liked your comment about the musical foreshadowing, so true. Admirable attention to detail by Selznick & Co.

  2. That little scene in the movie has always struck me as being un-Scarlett, but I have to remind myself that in the book she acts giggly too the next morning. Only difference is that she's got two days to get over her blushing before Rhett deigns to show up. So in the movie they had to do something to depict her "morning after" attitude. Interesting history about the song--I had never given it any thought before. I suppose I assumed it was a product of the screenwriter(s).

  3. Cute... and fun too!! :-)

  4. @ bluesneak I find the song too much to be Scarlett too, but I love that little sequence at the end when Vivien is presumably thinking of the prior night's events. That I find perfectly in character.

  5. @iris- Haha, musical foreshadowing is a good way of putting it. I admit I was a little bit surprised to see how well the song worked in context of the scene. Especially, these lines, as Bugsie pointed out:

    There is change in the things I loved, Ben Bolt,
    They have changed from the old to the new;

  6. Bugsie, yes! That little sequence after Scarlett/Vivien sings the song, when suddenly her mind drifts back to the previous night, is so precious. I hated that Rhett entered and was so fearful of her reaction that the one who always boasted he could read her so well did such a terrible job of it when it counted. Of course, he would blow it again on the stairs when he returned from London. Same face on Scarlett, same happiness at seeing him but all to no avail.


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