Oct. 31, 1999


by Charles Goodrich

Broadcast Date: SUNDAY: October 31, 1999

Poem: "Yellowjackets" by Charles Goodrich from Insects of South Corvallis published by Knot House, Corvallis, Oregon.

Since this is the last Sunday in October, Standard Time resumed today at 2 a.m. in each time zone, as specified in the Uniform Time Act of 1966. Many people remind themselves of which way to move the small hand by using the rule, ‘Fall back, Spring ahead.' Benjamin Franklin was among the first to suggest that clocks be set ahead in summer to create a longer working day. During the First World War, Germany adopted Daylight Savings Time to save energy; Britain and the United States soon did the same.

Today is Halloween, also called All Hallow's Eve, the eve of All Saints' Day. Which makes it sound like a Christian holiday—but actually the tradition goes back much further. In ancient days, Celts living in what is now Britain and Ireland considered November first their New Year's Day, called the feast of "Samhain." Hilltop bonfires encouraged the waning sun and frightened off evil spirits. To take the place of this pagan celebration, Christians eventually moved a springtime holiday—a day for honoring Mary and all the saints—to November first, calling it All Saints' Day.

It's the birthday of Romantic lyric poet John Keats, born in his father's livery stable in 1795. His father fell from a horse and died when Keats was 9; his mother died of tuberculosis when Keats was 14. It was at this point that he took to reading ravenously, especially Spenser's Faerie Queene and both Greek and Roman mythology. At 16 he was apprenticed to a surgeon, but he broke off his training three years later and worked for several hospitals as a junior house surgeon. His first collection of poems was a critical failure, but he forged ahead, and by the time he turned 22 had given himself completely to poetry. In the summer of 1818, on a walking tour of the Lake District and Scotland, he exhausted himself, bringing on the tuberculosis his family was prey to—it had already killed his mother, and that same year would kill his younger brother Tom. This was also when Keats fell deeply in love with a neighbor girl, Fanny Brawne, who often returned his affection but often drove him to fits of jealousy. Although overwrought with grief and love and deteriorating health, he managed in that one year (1819) to compose all his best poetry, including his great odes— "On Indolence," "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode to Psyche," "Ode to a Nightingale," "On Melancholy," "To Autumn"—and two versions of the epic poem "Hyperion." Early the next year, after a long raw journey seated outside a carriage, he came down with a fever, spat up blood—and knew, from his medical training, that it was arterial blood, his death sentence. Seven months later he sailed for Italy with his friend Joseph Severn, hoping to recover in a warmer climate, but lasted only 5 months, dying in Rome, in Severn's room near the Spanish Steps, a few months after his 25th birthday. The bitter epitaph he wrote for his tombstone read: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water."

On this day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses (which is to say, 95 propositions) to the door of Wittenberg's Palace church, denouncing the sale of indulgences and denying the Pope the right to forgive sins. Six years earlier, on a mission to Rome as a 27-year-old priest, Luther had been appalled by the corruption he saw around him. Funds for rebuilding St. Peter 's Cathedral were being raised by the wanton sale of indulgences—offering the hope of eternal salvation in return for cash donations. In particular, he was enraged by the showy practices of a Saxon monk named Johann Tetzel [TETT-zl], who now proceeded to burn Luther's theses, then published a set of counter-theses. Eventually Pope Leo the 10th was drawn into the disturbance. Four years after posting his 95 theses, Luther was told to relent, refused, and was excommunicated (1521). The Reformation was underway.

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 »