Sep. 16, 2001


by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Terminus," by Ralph Waldo Emerson from The Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry (Park Lane Press).


It is time to be old,
To take in sail
The god of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds,
And said: "No more!
No farther spread
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root.
Fancy departs: no more invent,
Contract thy firmament
To compass of a tent.
There's not enough for this and that,
Make thy option which of two;
Economize the failing river,
Not the less revere the Giver,
Leave the many and hold the few.
Timely wise accept the terms…"

    As the bird trims her to the gale,
I trim myself to the storm of time,
I man the rudder, reef the sail,
Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:
"Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charmed."

The Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth, England, for the New World on this day in 1620, hoping to settle in Virginia territory, and become fishermen.        

It was on this day that Henry Steinway, who had come here from Hamburg in 1849, sold his first American-made piano in 1853. He introduced the first cast iron frame, which allowed a piano to be strung with greater tension on the strings and with the bass strings crossing above the treble strings so they could be longer and make a grander sound.

It's the birthday of Henry Louis Gates, the critic and historian, born in Keyser, West Virginia (1950). He wrote a memoir about growing up there, called Colored People. After college he worked for a year in Tanzania and then hitchhiked the length and breadth of Africa. A professor at Harvard, a writer for The New Yorker magazine, he is known for his critical essay, On the Blackness of Blackness: A Critique of the Sign and the Signifying Monkey (1983). The "Signifying Monkey" being a trickster character in African folk tales.

It's the birthday of novelist John Knowles, born in Fairmont, West Virginia, (1926). His first novel was a big success in 1960 and launched his career: A Separate Peace, about a boys' boarding school.

It's the birthday of B.B. King, born Riley B. King, on a cotton plantation near Indianola, Mississippi (1925). He moved to Memphis and found work with WDIA, the local black radio station, where he called himself "the Blues Boy from Beale Street," which he shortened to "Blues Boy King," and finally B.B.King when he started to make his own records. Over the next four decades he and Lucille, his red guitar, played as many as 330 one-night stands a year in bars and blues clubs. His autobiography, Blues All Around Me, came out in 1996.

It's the birthday of the psychoanalyst Karen Horney, born Karen Danielsen, in Hamburg (1885). She came to the United States in 1932 after 12 years at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute and promulgated her belief that social conditions, more than biological factors, determine individual personality and create neuroses, which got her expelled from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

It's the birthday of historian Francis Parkman, born in Boston (1823). His classic book was The Oregon Trail, in 1849, based on his travels along the trail and a summer he spent living with the Sioux Indians.

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 »