Gertrude Stein Reads “A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson”
By Maria Popova
We lost Sherwood Anderson — beloved author, dispenser of timelessly poetic fatherly advice — on this day in 1941. And what better way to celebrate his legacy than with a rare recording of reconstructionist Gertrude Stein reading her 1922 poem “A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson,” with audio from my alma mater’s wonderful PennSound archive? Indebted to Anderson for the credibility his foreword had lent her 1922 volume Geography and Plays, Stein wrote him this “love poem,” found in A Stein Reader (public library), as a token of gratitude — but, of course, she was in love-love with her lifelong partner, Alice B. Toklas, to whom an earlier version of the poem titled “Idem the Same” had been dedicated.
Very fine is my valentine.
Very fine and very mine.
Very mine is my valentine very mine and very fine.
Very fine is my valentine and mine, very fine very mine and mine is my valentine.
Anderson had befriended Stein during his first trip to Paris after Sylvia Beach, the owner of the legendary English-language bookstore Shakespeare & Company, had spotted him browsing Stein’s then-obscure books and had written a letter of introduction between the two authors. Later, writing in his notebook, he described Stein with impeccable, admiring accuracy:
Imagine a strong woman with legs like stone pillars sitting in a room hung with Picassos… The woman is the very symbol of health and strength. She laughs. She smokes cigarettes. She tells stories with an American shrewdness in getting the tang and the kick into the telling.
A lifelong friendship unfolded.
Published March 8, 2013