Dec. 28, 1999

Rhapsody for a Good Night

by David Lee

Broadcast Date: TUESDAY: December 28, 1999

Poem: "Rhapsody for the Good Night" by David Lee from A Legacy of Shadows published by Copper Canyon Press.

It was on this day in 1973 that the first volume of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO was published in Paris. It was an expose of the Soviet prison system, and was a combination of memoir and history based on Solzhenitsyn's own eight-year incarceration there. The word, Gulag, is an acronym for the agency that ran the camps, and Solzhenitsyn meant the word Archipelago as a metaphor for the camps that were scattered throughout the USSR like a chain of islands. "The Kolyma was the greatest and most famous island, the pole of ferocity of that amazing country of Gulag, which, though scattered in an archipelago geographically, was, in the psychological sense, fused into a continent, an almost invisible, almost imperceptible country." The remaining two volumes came out over the next two years, but by then Solzhenitsyn had been arrested; and in February, 1974 he was exiled. He settled in the States for 20 years, then returned to Russia.

It was on this day in Paris, 1897, that Edmond Rostand's play CYRANO DE BERGERAC premiered: the story of a swashbuckling 17th-century Parisian poet who believes no woman could ever love him because of his huge nose. From afar, he falls in love with the beautiful young Roxanne, but graciously decides to help his rival Christian woo her; Cyrano writes touching love poems and letters to Roxanne, then gives them to Christian to pass off as his own. When Christian is killed in battle, Cyrano stays quiet for years about his love for Roxanne, and only as Cyrano is dying — when he recites to Roxanne a letter he'd written her years earlier — that she realizes it was his words, and thus him, that she really fell in love with. "Roxane, adieu! I soon must die! This very night, beloved; and I Feel my soul heavy with love untold. My heart has been yours in every beat! Here, dying, and there, in the land on high, I am he who loved, who loves you, I."

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 »