Sep. 13, 1999

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

by William Butler Yeats

Broadcast Date: MONDAY: September 13, 1999

Poem: "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" by W.B. Yeats, from The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, Scribner, 1996.

Itís the birthday of photojournalist Kevin Carter, born in Johannesburg, South Africa (1960). In 1993 he paid his own way to the southern Sudan to photograph the civil war and famine there—resulting in a 1994 Pulitzer Prize for his haunting shot of a starving girl collapsing on her way to a feeding center, a vulture lurking in the background. (After taking the picture, he said later, he chased away the vulture, saw the toddler make her way to the feeding station, and then sat under a tree "smoking cigarettes and crying.") Several days after his Pulitzer was announced, a close friend was shot dead near him while photographing a gun battle in South Africa; three months later, Carter committed suicide.

Itís the birthday of American poet and biographer John Malcolm Brinnin, born in Halifax, Nova Scotia (1916)—who wrote memoirs describing his friendships with Dylan Thomas and Truman Capote. "Poetry for me was the liveliest art, the most gloriously useless and the most necessary."

Itís the birthday of Roald Dahl [roo-ahl dahl], born in Llandaff [HKLAHN- dahf], Wales (1916) of Norwegian parents. He wrote the grimly humorous memoir Boy, (1984), and Going Solo (1986). He preferred to be known for his adult fiction, but is best remembered for his childrenís stories James and the Giant Peach (1961) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964).

Itís the birthday of jazz critic, musician, and songwriter Leonard (Geoffrey) Feather, born in London, England (1914). Called the Ďdean of jazz critics;í he compiled a standard reference work, The Encyclopedia of Jazz (1955).

Itís the birthday of the ĎFather of Bluegrass,í Bill Monroe, born in Rosine, Kentucky (1911), a brilliant mandolinist and a hard-driving tenor singer. His mother was an excellent fiddler but his main inspiration was his Uncle Pen Vandiver [VANN-div-rr] who Monroe later honored with the song "Uncle Pen." In 1938, Bill formed the Blue Grass Boys, a group that would include such future stars of country music as Don Reno, Jimmy Martin, Carter Stanley, Vassar Clements, Chubby Wise, and Byron Berline—and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

Itís the birthday of the British man of letters J(ohn) B(oynton) Priestley, born in Bradford, Yorkshire (1894). His first novel, The Good Companions (1929), came out when he was 35. His novels include Angel Pavement (1930) and Lost Empires (1965); his plays include When We Are Married (1938) and An Inspector Calls (1946).

Itís the birthday of story writer and novelist Sherwood Anderson, born in Camden, Ohio (1876). He wrote sketches of small-town middle America, Winesburg, Ohio (1919) which made his reputation.

Itís the birthday of musical prodigy Clara Schumann, born in Leipzig [LIPE-sig] (1819)—who made her piano debut at 9. She fell in love, over her fatherís objections, with his pupil Robert Schumann. After Robert Schumannís mental collapse and early death (1856), she brought up their 7 children and carried on her career as composer, pianist, and promoter of his works and the works of their friend, Johannes Brahms.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »