Scion of prominent Jewish American family publishes first book of poetry at the age of 100
Last month, retired television producer Henry Morgenthau III turned 100, and he celebrated by publishing his first book of poetry.
“A Sunday in Purgatory,” published by Passager Books at the University of Baltimore, draws from his life as a scion of a prominent Jewish American family that includes his grandfather, Henry Morgenthau, who immigrated to New York from Germany in 1866 and served as ambassador to Turkey, and his father, Henry Morgenthau Jr., treasury secretary under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A younger brother, Robert, served as U.S. district attorney in New York.
The collection also reflects Morgenthau’s recent life in Washington, where he moved from Boston seven years ago to be near family. Sitting in his apartment at the retirement community Ingleside at Rock Creek as snow swirled outside, he spoke of how the city had changed since he lived here in the 1930s…
As a documentarian, he spent extensive time with poets and writers, including Robert Lowell. Footage from his 1963 interview with James Baldwin appears in the newly released film, “I Am Not Your Negro.” In 1991 he wrote “Mostly Morgenthaus,” a book about his famous family. But aside from a brief foray in the fifth grade, he did not begin writing poetry until he participated in a couple of writing workshops in his 90s.
Poems by Henry Morgenthau
“A Sunday in Purgatory” is a collection of poems filled with mystery, humor and the confessional style of Robert Lowell. Available on Amazon. Read the reviews!
YOU’LL CATCH YOUR DEATH
“You’ll catch your death of cold,” Mother would say
if I went outside without my jacket, cap and mittens.
When I was older, plagued with an infected tooth,
the dentist numbed my nerve with Laughing Gas.
I felt the pain from his drilling but laughed as if
it were hurting someone else, not me.
Then, at Deerfield, my best friend swallowed
a corrosive base in chemistry lab to end his life,
but recovered to graduate. Next year at Dartmouth,
he lay down across the tracks to wait for the train.
Now death has begun to catch up with me.
I’ve lived too long. Merely standing up
and breathing in and out is a serious challenge.
At Ingleside, our retirement home, we progress
from canes, to walkers, to wheelchairs.
In vain we try to push back looming shadows
as frequent announcements of memorial services
are posted where they can’t be mixed:
advertisements luring us to that final vacation.
Can the unseen
Can bad taste
Is a misfit
Hurrying to get there,
what is there?
If you think you will slip,
don’t take a trip.
Stay home, take another sip.
If life could extend
with no foreseeable end,
let boredom spirit you
around the bend.