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The great American writer Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938) is remembered especially for four novels: You Can’t Go Home Again, Of Time and the River, The Web and the Rock, and Look Homeward, Angel, which is my favorite. Although it’s a work of fiction, the book’s protagonist, Eugene Gant, is largely a stand-in for Wolfe himself. The author sets the stage for Look Homeward, Angel with an introductory poem:

. . . A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

Thomas Wolfe as a young, 6-foot, 6-inch, pipe smoker.

What brings all this to mind is remembering that a couple of decades ago when I was between marriages, I briefly tried answering ads published by online dating sites. As it happened, one woman I began exchanging emails with wrote that she is a fan of poetry and asked that I send her my favorite poem. Without hesitation I sent her Thomas Wolfe’s existential poem and was surprised by her response, which amounted to: “If that’s your favorite poem, you sound too grim for me. Goodbye.”

Apparently I disqualified myself by being a Wolfe man.