Jan. 28, 2001

Broadcast date: SUNDAY, 28 January 2001

Reading: a selection of epitaphs.

William Butler Yeats
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

John Gay
Life is a jest, and all things show it,
I thought so once; but now I know it.

Richard Hind
Here lies the body of Richard Hind,
who was neither ingenious, sober or kind.

H.J. Daniel's epitaph for his wife
To follow you I'm not content.
How do I know which way you went?

Samuel Butler
The Poet's Fate is here in Emblem shown:
He asked for Bread and he received a Stone.

Aphra Behn
Here lies proof that wit can never be
Defense against mortality.

Mary Ford
Here lyes MARY the Wife of JOHN FORD,
We hope her soul is gone to the LORD;
But if for Hell she has chang'd this life,
She had better be there than be John Ford's wife.

It's the birthday of English novelist and scholar David Lodge, born in south-east London (1935). He's the author of The Picturegoers (1960), The British Museum is Falling Down (1965), How Far Can You Go? (1980; called Souls and Bodies in America), Nice Work (1988), Therapy (1995), and other books.

It's the birthday of sculptor Claes Oldenburg, born in Stockholm (1929). Among his 'soft sculptures' are enormous gooey ice cream cones, and bulging hamburgers.

It's the birthday of Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, born in Cody, Wyoming (1912). He became famous in New York after World War II for his work using a technique he called "Action Painting." He would spread out a large unprimed canvas on the floor, then dip a stick into a can of ordinary house paint and hold the stick, dripping, while he walked along the edge of the canvas. Sometimes he poured or hurled his paint onto huge canvases.

It's the birthday of French novelist Colette, born in the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Burgundy (1873).When Colette was 17 she met Henri Gauthier-Villars, fifteen years her senior, who went by the name "Willy." Willy was well-known in the Paris publishing world—he used ghost writers to turn out cheap novels which he published under his own name. He married Colette when she was 20, and introduced her to the Parisian nightlife. He admired her uninhibited ways, but also spotted her talent with words, and promptly set her to work writing memoirs of her girlhood. Her first such novel, Claudine at School (1900), Willy put out under his own name, after spicing it up here and there. The book sold well, and she kept on writing. After divorcing Willy in 1910, Colette turned out a series of novels under her own name that were even more shocking than what she'd written before: The Vagabond (1910), The Shackle (1913), and Mitsou: Or, How Girls Grow Wise (1919).

"Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it."

It's the birthday of José Martí, the Cuban poet, patriot, and journalist, born in Havana (1853).He returned to Cuba after years of exile in America, to fight in the war for Cuban independence. He died in one of the first battles of the war.

It's the birthday of astronomer Johannes Hevelius, born in Gdansk, Poland, (1611).From his rooftop observatory, he discovered four comets, catalogued thousands of stars, and named most of what are called the "bodies of water" on the moon, such as the Sea of Tranquility.

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 »