Saturday

Jun. 2, 2001

The Cabbages of Chekhov

by Robert Bly

SATURDAY, 2 JUNE 2001
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Poem: "The Cabbages of Chekhov," by Robert Bly from The Night Abraham Called to the Stars (HarperCollins).

The Cabbages of Chekhov

Some gamblers abandon carefully built houses
In order to live near water. It's all right. One day
On the river is worth a thousand nights on land.

It is our attraction to ruin that saves us;
And disaster, friends, bring us health. Chekhov
Shocks the heavens with his dark cabbages.

William Blake knew that fierce old man,
Irritable, chained and majestic, who bends over
To measure with his calipers the ruin of the world.

It takes so little to make me happy tonight!
Four hours of singing will do it, if we remember
How much of our life is a ruin, and agree to that.

Butterflies spend all afternoon concentrating
On the buddleia bush; human beings take in
The fragrance of a thousand nights of ruin.

We planted fields of sorrow near the Tigris.
The Harvesters will come in at the end of time
And tell us that the crop of ruin has been great.

It was on this day in 1953 that Queen Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey in London, which two and a half million Britons watched on television and many more in the United States.

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Carol Shields, born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1935. She emigrated to Canada with her husband, raised five children there, and when they were older and in school she started to write. At first she wrote poems, then a novel, Small Ceremonies in 1976, Swann, The Republic of Love, and then in 1993, her best-selling book, The Stone Diaries, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize in England and received the Pulitzer Prize in the United States in 1995.

It's the birthday of the novelist Barbara Pym, born in Shropshire, England, in 1913. She was the author of many comic novels about upper-middle-class life in England, books like Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings. She worked for an anthropology magazine for nearly 30 years as an assistant editor, and tried to get her novels published with very little success. Though a few were published, they did not sell well, and then in her mid-50s she gave up writing altogether, and moved with her cat to a village near Oxford. In1977, when The London Times asked the best-known writers in Britain to name the most underrated novelist of the century, Barbara Pym was the only one who was mentioned twice. Overnight, she became a sort of star and all 12 of her novels were quickly published or republished.

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Hardy, born in Higher Brocklehampton, near Dorchester, England in1840. His father, a stonemason, taught the boy to play the fiddle, and he and his father played for country dances all through his childhood. He thought of becoming a clergyman, apprenticed himself to an architect, and when he was 23, he started to write. At first he wrote poetry, and then fiction. He published several novels in the 1870s, before he finally achieved success with Far from the Madding Crowd in 1874. More followed including The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Tess of the D'Urbervilles. After his novel Jude the Obscure was attacked for its sexual frankness, he gave up fiction and concentrated on writing poetry for the last three decades of his life.

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