By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept is a novel of prose poetry written by the Canadian author Elizabeth Smart (1913–1986) and published in 1945. It is widely considered to be a classic of the genre. In her preface to the 1966 reissue of the book, Brigid Brophy described it as one of the half-dozen masterpieces of poetic prose in the world.
It is based on the author's passionate affair with the British poet George Barker (1913–1991), who was married, and might be characterized as a hymn to love and its supremacy above all other emotions and worldly practicalities. Smart met Baker in the late 1930s in a book store in London, and conducted an affair with him for 18 years, which included bearing four of his 11 children. In the novel, the multiple pregnancies are reduced to one, and other details of the affair are omitted entirely. Indeed, the narrator's lover is barely described.
The title is a foretaste of Smart's poetic techniques. It uses metre (it is largely anapaestic), contains words denoting exalted or intensified states (grandeur, centrality, weeping), and alludes to a canonical work (Psalm 137, "By the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept ...") with metaphorical import for the novel's subject matter.
The book has gained a cult following, and has been referenced many times by the British singer Morrissey. Additionally, the poem was adapted for the screen by Laura Lamson though the film did not come to fruition.
In an essay for Open Letters Monthly, Ingrid Norton called the novel "a howl of a book, shot through with vivid imagery and ecstatic language, alternately exasperating and invigorating," noting the range of responses to it:
When the book was reissued in the late 1960s, novelist Angela Carter praised the novel in a Guardian review as “like Madame Bovary blasted by lightning” but later wrote privately to her friend, critic Lorna Sage, that one of her motivations for founding the feminist press Virago was "the desire that no daughter of mine should ever be in a position to be able to write BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I SAT DOWN AND WEPT, exquisite prose though it might contain. (BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I TORE OFF HIS BALLS would be more like it, I should hope.)"
Barker's novel The Dead Seagull, published in 1950, described his affair with Smart.
Famous quotes containing the words wept, sat, grand, central and/or station:
“A fiery red dragon
They spied on the grass;
The lady wept sorely,”
—Unknown. This Is the Key (l. 3436)
“There was on old person of Fratton
Who went to church with his hat on.
If I wake up, he said,
With my hat on my head,
I shall know that it hasnt been sat on.”
“Philosophy is written in this grand bookI mean the universe
which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.”
—Galileo Galilei (15641642)
“In a large university, there are as many deans and executive heads as there are schools and departments. Their relations to one another are intricate and periodic; in fact, galaxy is too loose a term: it is a planetarium of deans with the President of the University as a central sun. One can see eclipses, inner systems, and oppositions.”
—Jacques Barzun (b. 1907)
“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of natures God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
—Thomas Jefferson (17431826)