Splendor in the Grass
By Lee Chang-kook
Late one night, I turned on the TV and tuned to one of the satellite channels to find quite unexpectedly that an old Hollywood movie, ``Splendor in the Grass,'' was being run.
I got wistfully interested and watched it to the end with nostalgic reminiscence of my youth. I had a moment of time to calculate and recollect. I had seen it first in 1962. I was a 21-year-old sophomore college student then majoring in English.
I was accompanied by my first love. Momentarily I went back to that time when I was young and full of hopes and fears for the future lying ahead of me.
Watching old movies and listening to old songs, brings peculiar pleasure to us. They take us back to days gone by and revive forgotten memories associated with them.
I was glad to see the young and fresh faces of the once so famous and popular movie stars, Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, and became sad and philosophic at the same time to realize that the former had already died and the latter must inevitably be, like me, quite old, wrinkled and subdued by now.
Once there was a time when going to the movies was the best and only pastime for me. Hollywood movies including the Westerns dominated and captivated my world of imagination.
Without being told to do so I learned the long and strange names of the foreign actors and actresses by heart and mimicked and imitated their actions and fashions. Most of the pictures are forgotten by now, but some linger on in my memory and heart for some reasons. Splendor in the Grass is one.
Since I had already seen it once before, I thought I could remember the movie quite well in detail and would not be deeply touched this time as much as I had been. But I was quite wrong. I had forgotten almost all of the plot, the individual scenes, the dialogue and the dramatic turn of the events. In short, it was simply a new movie to me.
I can assure you that memory is not as dependable as you might think, especially that of an old man. I feel, therefore, the urgent need to oblige my readers by summing up the outline of the movie for those both who have and have not seen it before.
Splendor in the Grass is about the two adolescent students growing up in a small town in Kansas in the late 1920s. Bud Stamper (Warren Beatty) and Wilma Deanie (Natalie Wood) meet and obsessively fall in love with each other.
They become sexually awakened and experience emotional turmoil, and confront parental pressures and prejudices, social constraints and class difference. Bud's father encourages his son Bud to leave Wilma to find ``another kind of girl,'' while Wilma's mother tells her daughter obstinately that sex is just for making babies, which drives Wilma into a mental institution.
Bud reluctantly obeys his father, leaves home and enrolls at Yale University, breaking up with his love. The stock market crash of 1929 changes the lives of both families altogether.
When they meet again for the last time years later, they accept the realities of love and life and sadly but wisely go their separate ways. One of the universal themes in literature, achieving maturity or wisdom in life through suffering is well and clearly presented in the movie.
For me especially this picture has an unforgettable element that makes it so moving and memorable. A poem is being read aloud first by Wilma in the classroom and later narrated by someone in the last scene of the movie.
The poem, from which the title of the movie comes, is the penultimate stanza of William Wordsworth's so-called ``Immortality Ode,'' a long poem of eleven stanzas.
Meeting with it once more in the movie forty-six years later was an another experience, thrill ― even a catharsis for me, who as a professor of English has read and taught the very poem to students so many times in the classroom.
Forgive me. I cannot restrain myself from repeating it here because I know it is good, true and beautiful.
I am convinced that it should be shared by us all, not monopolized by a few privileged people, like me, especially when the stock market plunges so many into despair every day and people are committing suicide for no visible or probable reason. I feel I must comfort them. Here you are:
``What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, or glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind."
When the movie ended I found I was all by myself in front of the TV. It was past midnight already and my wife had gone to bed. I fell into a silly reverie. Had I married my first love, would she have gone to bed leaving me alone to watch the very movie we had seen together?
I thought of her, my Wilma, and of the time my heart leapt when I beheld her. I was so happy and proud of being with her. She was everything to me. It was impossible to marry another woman.
But I have married another woman and she is sleeping peacefully, leaving me wide-awake in a silent and empty room. Momentarily I was angry with my wife and with myself for no reason. Very fortunately I am an old man now with no particular hopes or fears. Being old is a cold blessing.
Lee Chang-kook is a professor emeritus at Chung-Ang University. He can be reached at email@example.com.