Travel, trouble, music, art,
A kiss, a frock, a rhyme-
I never said they feed my heart,
But still they pass my time.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Dorothy Parker's poem Faute de Mieux

2 Comments

  1. pphyllis says:

    I love this poem. Ms. Parker has captured the condition of countless individuals in the society in which I live. The rhythm is catchy like the many cliches used to make one sound witty and humorous. The things that pass her time are the popular engagements of the day. Vacations, shopping, romantic involvements, political correctness, etc. etc. etc. all accompanied by troubles that we try to reduce by the engaging. Totally ignoring the magnitude of our desperation, we go merrily on. I don’t think Ms. Parker is sad. I think Ms. Parker recognizes the state of a world devoid of purpose and meaning. This loss is very real for so many people and despite the lighthearted expressions quickly uttered in response to serious inquiries about how one fairs. Drugs, sex and other intoxicants offer an escape from what they recognize to be a lie. Problem is they find an even bigger lie so that now the time passer is only trouble. The art is gone the travel is gone. The rhythm and the rhym. The frock is torn and shatterd and the heart is starving.

  2. David says:

    For all her wit and success, Dorothy Parker comes across as deep-down sad, and this little poem suggests her feeling that life is empty for her.

    The title, meaning ‘For lack of anything better’ is itself sad, suggesting things that are second-best.

    Parker’s cleverness comes across in her apparently random choice of nouns in the first two lines:

    Travel, trouble, music, art,
    A kiss, a frock, a rhyme-

    The words are simple, short, everyday, but when you take them in slowly they make you feel you are in a dodgem car in a fair, being bumped off course again and again. ‘Travel’ – what next? Travel broadens the mind? To travel hopefully is better than to arrive? But the next word is ‘trouble.’ Unexpected, but it could be setting out another train of thought, that travelling is often uncomfortable, tiring, even risky. We wait for the third word.

    ‘Music’. Our dodgem is knocked right off course now. What on earth has that got to do with traval and trouble? The answer is, of course, ‘nothing’. When ‘art’ follows ‘music’, we are momentarily lulled into a feeling that we know here we are headed. Music and art – these go together happily. The poem is presenting us with a list of the big abstractions.

    Line 2 knocks us of course yet again. From big abstractions to a small, personal one: a kiss. Things get still more disconcerting with ‘a frock’. How ever did we get from the big things like trouble and music, to a frock? It’s becoming a jumble.

    The last of the list, ‘a rhyme’, makes it very personal to Parker. She does not say ‘poetry’, to go with music and art, nor even ‘rhyme’, which would be fairly general. No, it is a particular rhyme that this writer of verse means.

    With that last word, we may have reached an inkling of what the poem is about: activities and objects that mean much to Dorothy Parker. The title has warned us that they are in some way second-best. What will she say about them?

    I never said they feed my heart,
    But still they pass my time.

    So sad! She lists a representative selection of what fills her life, and then admits that they do not ‘feed her heart’. A powerful expression. The heart is the inmost being of a person, and Parker’s heart is shrivelling up for lack of nourishment. She is a shell, she claims. There is nothing vital at her core.

    So what of all these assorted words in the first half of the poem? None of them feeds her heart. They pass the time.

    But she doesn’t say ‘They pass the time’. She says ‘they pass my time,’ making it a purely personal statement of … what? futility? emptiness? lack of love? dissatisfaction?

    Sad for Dorothy Parker. How does the list affect us? Could we make a similar list for the 21st century, including surfing the net, muzak, the Sunday papers? Do we have in our lives things that feed the heart, or are our lives empty and unsatisfied, so that we need to fill them with things that pass our time, faute de mieux?

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