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Alberta Clipper 9/30/2014: ‘On the Death of James Dean’ by Ralph Pomeroy

On September 30, 1955 a young actor died in a car crash at the age of twenty-four, turning him into an icon for many generations to come.  James Dean was that actor.  He only starred in three films, East of Eden, Giant, and, of course, Rebel Without a Cause.  He was the first actor to receive posthumous Oscar nominations. Three years after Dean’s death, Ralph Pomeroy’s “On the Death of James Dean” was published in the Prairie Schooner’s 1958 fall issue.  That fall, the temperature near the end of September was marked with a high of 90°F.  While October was the warmest month with an average temperature of 71°F, making for a relatively pleasant autumn.–Danielle Pringle

Ralph Pomeroy
On the Death of James Dean

How dear, how fair, how prodigal to die.
            And young, while flare
            The lacquered laurels, and stare
The thronged fans, wronged by his going, as I.

Yet here, and there, unaware, the sun unbinds the blinds;
            The May boughs lean on elbows
            Sleeved in rose;
The summit squirrel swings his limit and finds.

In drear, in spare dusk, in a silver Spyder,
            Strumming speed like music-muscles,
            He sped below night’s corpuscles:
The stars; spied, in the dousing dark, pale horse, pale rider.

Could clear, could bare, this wild, wanting world.
            As though through wondering,
            Staring, sparring, sparing, thundering,
Crowds of mug-muddlers could be foiled, be furled.

Mourn near, mourn far, the death of this larky boy
            Who carried and buried wheat;
            Who learned immortality in its feat
Of growing; who yearned for, and earned, the strenuous yoke of joy.


The Alberta Clipper is a biweekly gust of history—brushing the dust off of a poem from our archives and situating it in the current events and local Nebraskan weather reports of days gone by. Explore the Alberta Clipper archives here.

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