Isadora Duncan’s Scarf

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Lately, the garment in the title has surfaced twice in my reading material in the last few months.  For the uninitiated, Isadora Duncan was a famous dancer whose tragic death ensures her presence in most collections of ‘Famous Last Lines’.

The first time, I came across a mention of the titular garment in a poem on If you don’t subscribe to their Poem-a-day, please do so at once. It has increased my limited knowledge of poetry while enhancing my appreciation of the finer verses.

The second time I encountered it in Alexander McCall Smith’s novel Corduroy Mansions. In the first book of this delightful (relatively) new series, a literary agent called Barbara Ragg meets a young man in the car park of the hotel from where she’s just checked out. She offers him a lift to London.

At the beginning of their journey, noticing the scarf, Barbara had warned him of the date of Isadora Duncan.

‘Remember Isadora Duncan,’ she said as they drove out of the Mermaid Inn’s car park.

He looked at her blankly. ‘No, I don’t know her, I’m afraid.’

The car started down the cobbled street. ‘you wouldn’t,’ said Barbara. ‘She died in 1927. In tragic circumstances that are brought to mind, I’m afraid, by your scarf.’

The young man frowned. ‘You’ve lost me,’ he said.




‘It’s rather a sad story,’ Barbara went on. ‘Isadora was given a lovely long scarf by a Russian artist. She was taken for a ride in Nice in an Amilcar GS – a very nice little sports car of the time – by a very glamorous Italian mechanic, Benoit Falchetto.’

Hardly ten minutes later, the unthinkable comes to pass. The young lad almost suffers a similar fate. Barbara grasps the situation instantly and with quick thinking reverses the car.

It was the right thing to do, even if the right thing may sometimes come too late. To reverse the car is not the solution to an ordinary accident; one cannot just drive backwards, and in doing so bring a broken vehicle to wholeness again. But in such an accident as this, one can reverse and unwind that which is wound up, in theory, at least.

If you enjoy subtle, gentle humour rather than the rib-tickling slapdash variety, then you must read the Corduroy Mansions series. Until such time you can beg, borrow or purloin a copy, enjoy the poem I talked about earlier, reproduced below in full as I received it from

Complaint of Isadora Duncan’s Scarf

by Charles Jensen

My only glory was in beauty,
how I reached from her slender neck
toward the sky, ravaged by wind

the way a rough lover handles
you: dizzying, powerful,
unpredictable, but with joy,

joy in touching you,
joy in seeing you disheveled. The cool
night air ran its lips on my silk skin

to make me dance. I danced,
long and lean, with perfect
extension and seamless flow.

I had no bones. Not one bit of me
was firm or harsh. I was air
itself. I was becoming

pure performance. I could
see the tire’s eye watching me.
The car at the sidewalk with its

inflexible frame-it hated
my freedom, my lift, my flight.
The car, gravity’s great love,

envied me. The wind, for a moment,
set me down with ballet grace.
I lit upon the cold steel spokes

striking out from the wheel
like the arms of great Kali. She
tangled me, and when the car

drove off the wheel pulled me
tighter. I wound around its neck
the only way a scarf knows how,

pulling my whole silk body
and everything that anchored me
into the mouth of never.

From is the first publication of “Complaint of Isadora Duncan’s Scarf,” copyright © 2012 by Charles Jensen. Used with the permission of the author.

What enlightening poetry have you read lately?


    1. You should start with the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (if you like mysteries unravelled at a leisurely pace) or the 44 Scotland Street series. All his books and series are awesome! I think you will like his particular brand of gentle humour.

      The writing is literally going….away from me!!! I have written precious little this year. Hoping to get some done this month 😦


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