He Wasn't Known for Poems, but He Left Behind a Rare One

Novelist Raymond Chandler's 'Requiem' was penned after the loss of his wife from lung disease
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 11, 2023 10:20 AM CST
He Wasn't Known for Poems, but He Left Behind a Rare One
This 1946 file photo shows mystery novelist and screenwriter Raymond Chandler.   (AP Photo, File)

Near the end of 1954, the wife of Raymond Chandler died after a long battle with lung disease. The famed crime novelist fell into near-suicidal depression from which he never recovered. He drank heavily and died just five years later, at age 70. Chandler completed no major books after the death of Cissy Pascal Chandler, but he did summon a brief, unpublished work, in a format he wasn't known for: poetry. Written during the year following Cissy's death, the 27-line "Requiem" is a grieving fatalist's tribute to his longtime spouse, with opening lines that have the aura of a crime scene—and of a final glance at the victim, per the AP.

The poem reads: "There is a moment after death when the face is beautiful / When the soft, tired eyes are closed and the pain is over, / And the long, long innocence of love comes gently in / For a moment more, in quiet to hover." Chandler's poem appears in the winter edition of Strand Magazine, which has published rare pieces by William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Tennessee Williams, among others. Strand Editor-in-Chief Andrew Gulli says he found the poem in a shoebox at the University of Oxford's Bodleian Library. "I liked this departure from the wisecracking tales" of Chandler sleuth Philip Marlowe, Gulli says of "Requiem."

Chandler, known for such classic novels as The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep, had released poems early in his career that Charles Ardai, a crime writer and founder of the imprint Hard Case Crime, calls "juvenilia." But Ardai praised "Requiem" as "heartfelt and lovely and observed as only a longtime spouse recently bereaved could." "This is a mature poem, a legitimate addition to Chandler's body of work. I'm very glad it has been found," Ardai says. According to Tom Williams, whose Chandler biography A Mysterious Something in the Light came out a decade ago, the author met Cissy Pascal sometime before World War I, corresponded with her while he was serving overseas, and married her in 1924. Chandler was in his mid-30s at the the time they wed; Cissy was nearly 20 years older.

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Biographers have long speculated about their bond, and on whether the Chandlers' age difference or their frequent changes of residence led to their brief separation in the early 1930s. They did reconcile and remain together, in part so Chandler could care for his ailing wife. Because Chandler never got around to processing the necessary documents, Cissy didn't have a formal burial; her remains were stored inside a mausoleum in San Diego, where the couple had lived in their later years. But Chandler fan Loren Latker led an effort for a posthumous reunion. In 2011, a judge approved, and Cissy was interred alongside her husband at San Diego's Mount Hope Cemetery—on Valentine's Day.

(More Raymond Chandler stories.)

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