--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.
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.