If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
For the biblical quote, see Psalm 137.
First edition cover

If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem is a novel by the American author William Faulkner published in 1939. The novel was originally published under the title The Wild Palms, which is the title of one of the two interwoven stories. This title was chosen by the publishers, Random House, over the objections of Faulkner's choice of a title. Subsequent editions have since been printed under the title If I Forget Thee Jerusalem (1990, following the "corrected text" and format of Noel Polk), and since 2003 it is now usually referred to by both names, with the newer title following the historically first published title and in brackets, to avoid confusion: The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem].

Wild Palms/Old Man is a blend of two stories, a love story and a river story, entitled "Wild Palms" and "Old Man", respectively. Both stories tell us of a distinct relationship between a man and a woman. The novel starts with the first chapter, "Wild Palms", and continues, alternating the two stories chapter by chapter, until ending with the final chapter, "Old Man".

In an interesting example of literary tribute, Jorge Luis Borges translated the complete novel into Spanish as Las palmeras salvajes (1940), a work that influenced a good number of American novelists.

The Wild Palms is quoted in Jean-Luc Godard's 1959 film, Breathless ("À bout de souffle"), when Patricia claims to prefer to take "grief rather than nothing"; the same quote is cited in the 1986 John Hughes comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off, when Principal Rooney "consoles" Sloan while waiting in front of the school. It also appears in the movie Im Lauf der Zeit, 1976, by Wim Wenders in which one of the protagonists, a truckdriver, is reading his paperback copy of the book every now and then. Agnès Varda says in her film The Beaches of Agnès that the structure of Faulkner's novel directly inspired her first feature, La Pointe Courte.

Like four other Faulkner novels (Soldiers' Pay, Mosquitoes, Pylon and A Fable), the novel is not set in Yoknapatawpha County.


Each story is five chapters long and they offer a significant interplay between narrative plots. "Wild Palms" tells the story of Harry and Charlotte, who meet, fall in forbidden love, travel the country together for work, and, ultimately, experience tragedy when the abortion Harry performs on Charlotte kills her. "Old Man" is the story of a convict who, while being forced to help victims of a flood, rescues a pregnant woman. They are swept away downstream by the flooding Mississippi, and she gives birth to a baby. He eventually gets both himself and the woman to safety and then turns himself in, returning to prison.


  • McHaney, Thomas L. (1975). William Faulkner's The Wild Palms: A Study. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

External links[edit]