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Rare Raymond Chandler poem is a tribute to his late wife, with a surprising twist

by Michael Nguyen
3 comments
Raymond Chandler Requiem

In late 1954, Raymond Chandler’s wife, Cissy Pascal Chandler, passed away after a prolonged battle with lung disease. This tragic loss plunged the renowned crime novelist into a deep and enduring depression, marked by heavy drinking, and ultimately led to his demise just five years later, at the age of 70.

During this period of personal turmoil, Chandler produced no significant literary works. However, he did create a brief, previously unpublished piece, which was unusual for him given that it was in a poetic format. This 27-line composition, titled “Requiem,” was written in the year following Cissy’s death. It stands as a poignant and fatalistic tribute to his beloved spouse of many years, with opening lines that evoke the atmosphere of a crime scene and a final farewell to the departed.

Chandler’s poem has resurfaced in the winter edition of Strand Magazine, a publication known for featuring rare pieces by literary giants like William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Tennessee Williams. The discovery of this poem was made by Strand’s editor-in-chief, Andrew Gulli, who stumbled upon it in a shoe box at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library.

Gulli expressed his appreciation for this departure from Chandler’s typically wise-cracking detective tales, highlighting the heartfelt nature of “Requiem.”

While Chandler had dabbled in poetry early in his career, these earlier efforts were often dismissed as “juvenilia.” However, Charles Ardai, a crime writer and the founder of the imprint Hard Case Crime, praised “Requiem” as a mature and touching addition to Chandler’s body of work, describing it as something that only a recently bereaved longtime spouse could produce.

The poem also reveals a surprising twist in Chandler’s sentiments. Despite his acceptance of his wife’s passing and the end of their “long, wild dream,” Chandler finds solace in the letters that preserve the memory of their enduring love.

However, it’s worth noting that these cherished letters are believed to have been destroyed by Chandler himself. Ardai suggests that this act might have been driven by Chandler’s tendency to flirt with self-destruction, as he had attempted suicide on several occasions, even after his wife’s passing. Alternatively, it could be attributed to his awareness of his impending mortality, leading him to view the letters as intensely private.

Raymond Chandler’s enduring connection with Cissy did not go unnoticed by their admirers. Despite Chandler’s failure to arrange formal burial documents, Cissy’s remains had been kept within a mausoleum in San Diego, their last place of residence. In a touching posthumous tribute, Chandler enthusiast Loren Latker successfully petitioned for Cissy’s interment alongside her husband at San Diego’s Mount Hope Cemetery in 2011, a poignant reunion on Valentine’s Day.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Raymond Chandler Requiem

What is “Requiem” by Raymond Chandler?

“Requiem” is a 27-line poem written by Raymond Chandler following the death of his wife, Cissy Pascal Chandler, in 1954. It is a heartfelt tribute to his late spouse.

Why is this poem significant?

This poem is noteworthy because Raymond Chandler, a renowned crime novelist, is not typically associated with poetry. It offers a glimpse into his personal emotions during a difficult period in his life.

Where was “Requiem” discovered?

The poem was discovered in a shoebox at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library by Andrew Gulli, the editor-in-chief of Strand Magazine.

How does the poem “Requiem” differ from Chandler’s usual works?

Unlike his famous detective novels, “Requiem” is a departure from Chandler’s typical wise-cracking tales. It is a more somber and emotional piece, reflecting his grief over his wife’s death.

What is the surprising twist in the poem?

The surprising twist in “Requiem” is that despite Chandler’s acceptance of his wife’s passing, he finds solace in the letters that recall the innocence of their love. However, it is believed that he ultimately destroyed these cherished letters.

Who is Cissy Pascal Chandler, and what was her relationship with Raymond Chandler?

Cissy Pascal Chandler was Raymond Chandler’s wife. They met before World War I, corresponded during his military service overseas, and married in 1924. Their relationship endured despite an age difference and other challenges.

How did Raymond Chandler and Cissy Pascal Chandler reunite after a separation?

Although they briefly separated in the early 1930s, they later reconciled, with Chandler caring for his ailing wife. Their bond remained strong until her passing.

What happened to Cissy Pascal Chandler after her death?

Due to incomplete paperwork, Cissy did not have a formal burial. Her remains were stored in a mausoleum in San Diego, where the couple had lived. However, in 2011, a posthumous reunion was arranged, and Cissy was interred alongside her husband at San Diego’s Mount Hope Cemetery on Valentine’s Day.

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3 comments

booklover22 December 12, 2023 - 4:32 am

i never knew chandler wrote poetry, this is diff from his detective stuff, its deep.

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historybuff55 December 12, 2023 - 9:02 am

great find by Andrew Gulli, bet that shoebox had more hidden gems. chandler’s love for his wife is touching, even if he destroyed the letters.

Reply
reader87 December 12, 2023 - 1:08 pm

wow, chandler’s poem, ‘requiem’, its a sad tribute to his wife, quite a twist at the end. his wife cissy, they had a intense bond, they separated but came back. so much emotions in this poem.

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