Biographical Poetry posted October 22, 2023

This work has reached the exceptional level
America's greatest playwright!

Eugene O'Neill

by Debbie D'Arcy

His life would be foretold, it's said -
his father trod the boards
and hotel rooms would act instead
of home throughout those tours.
His boyhood years would thus be strained
mid issues that would play
with mother's morphine fix ingrained
while father's craft held sway.
His parents' faiths would, too, collide,
in words that would inflame.
Such turmoil was then later plied
with art that bore his name.
Though school would lend respite, he knew
he needed to feel free.
His urge to lead a life more true
would send him off to sea.
Then six years nearly saw his end,
his world lacked aim and breath.
His vagrancy and drink would send
him to the brink of death.
And, whilst confined, mid ills and woes,
he sought to mend his ways;
a "rebirth" of his life he chose -
a future writing plays.
In realistic style he struck
a nerve, its very core.
His plays, so real and raw, would buck
the farce that went before.
In tragedy of Grecian roots,
his characters were framed
on kinship strife and fierce disputes,
with might he struck and shamed.
Such avant-garde* would rock the scene,
bring culture to the stage.
With masks and poetry supreme,
his works became the rage.
In tragedies he sketched himself
as art would echo mind.
The struggle twixt ideals and pelf*
would always blight mankind. 
In "Iceman Cometh," he would paint
a dream of better things,
yet, all the while in hope, a taint
that with deception brings. 
Though artistry would fire his zeal,
there lacked a parent's care.
Those dues of home would not appeal,
while stage, his love affair.
But then he lost his will to fight
when illness stilled his pen.
With "long day's journey into night,"
he'd never write again.
His wealth of art would set the pace 
to stir, enrich the soul.
His classic input changed the face
of drama's starring role.



Eugene O'Neill, 1888-1953 Irish-American playwright. Born in New York; died in Boston.

Stanza 1-3 His early life was spent in hotel rooms, trains and backstage due to his father's successful career as a touring actor. His mother became addicted to morphine following her son's birth. Together with his rough-and-tumble background, his childhood was steeped in the clash between his father's peasant Irish Catholicism and his mother's more genteel, mystical piety, leading to the high sense of drama and struggle with God and religion that distinguish his later plays.

Stanza 4 - 6 His schooling provided stability, little else, and he left intent on pursuing his real education in "life experience." He shipped to sea, living a derelict's existence on the waterfronts of Buenos Aires, Liverpool and New York City, ending up attempting suicide. After 6 years of this lifestyle he recovered briefly before being plunged into 6 months of hospitalisation recovering from tuberculosis. For the first time, he confronted the sober, naked truth that he must undergo a rebirth in the form of writing drama.

Stanza 7 Although his early works were awkward, needing refinement, they included subjects such as prostitutes, lonely sailors, derelicts, God's injustice to man, previously the province of serious novels and not considered fit for the American stage which was characterised by melodrama and farce. He was subsequently sent by his father to Harvard to study on a famous playwriting course. He was already on his chosen path and, by the time his first full length play, Beyond the Horizon, was produced on Broadway, he already had a small reputation. Critics were impressed by his tragic realism (associated with Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg) and the play won for him the first of 4 Pulitzer prizes in drama.

Stanza 8-9 *Avant-garde - new and experimental ideas and methods in art. His plays were written from an intensely personal perspective, deriving from the scarring effects of his family's tragic relationships: his mother and father who loved and tormented each other; his older brother who loved and corrupted him and died from alcoholism in middle age; and himself caught and torn between love and rage for all three. Hardly surprising, therefore, that he was influenced by the extreme tragedies that so often represent Greek tragedies. In his first full length play, Desire under the Elms (1924), he drew upon such themes of incest, infanticide and fateful retribution to frame his story in the context of his own family conflicts.

Stanza 10 *Pelf - wealth, luxury. In The Great God Brown (1926), he dealt with the major theme of ideals v materialism that would be found in much of his later work. The play is significant for its symbolic use of masks, is rich in poetry and daring technique and became a forerunner of the avant-garde movement in American theatre.

Stanza 11 The Iceman Cometh (1939, appeared on Broadway 1946) - the most complex and possibly the finest of his tragedies. Laced with subtle religious symbolism, it is a study of man's struggle for a better life even if he must delude himself in the process.

Stanza 12 His theatrical interests took precedence over his family who suffered in the process. Both his sons committed suicide (one of whom he had disowned) and his daughter was also disowned after she married Charlie Chaplin who was 54 at the time to her 18. He was married 3 times.

Stanza 13 In his last year, he developed the debilitating condition of Parkinson's Disease and his failure to hold a pen marked the end of his writing life. He also suffered from alcoholism and depression. The posthumous production of Long Day's Journey into Night is a semi-autobiographical play, shattering and agonising in its depiction of relations between mother, father and two sons. Spanning one day in the life of a family, it strips away layer after layer from the four central characters.

Stanza 14 The first American dramatist to regard the stage as a literary medium and the only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, he aimed for contemporary drama that would have its roots in the most powerful of Greek tragedies - a drama that could rise to the emotional heights of Shakespeare. He was an inspiration for later playwrights with his plays setting the pace for the blossoming of Broadway. He left behind an impressive legacy of over 50 plays.

As he was dying, in a barely audible whisper, he uttered: "I knew it, I knew it. Born in a hotel room - and God damn it - died in a hotel room."

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