Nov. 6, 2001

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant, and The Props assist the House

by Emily Dickinson

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Props assist the House," and "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant," by Emily Dickinson.

The Props assist the House

The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Auger and the Carpenter—
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life—
A past of Plank and Nail
And slowness—then the Scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—

Tell all the truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

Today is Election Day. Because this is 2001, an "uneven" year, there are no national elections taking place. Election Day is always held on the Tuesday on or after the second of November. In all other years, local elections are held for whatever positions are up for grabs—for instance, mayor, council member, judges, and school officials—depending on how each particular local government is structured.

In 1860 on this day Abraham Lincoln was elected president with an 82 percent voter turnout. Lincoln had dinner that evening in Springfield, Illinois, and then went to the telegraph office in town to wait for word from each of the states. At about 2 a.m., he heard that he had won New York, which made his election certain. He had won the election with less than 40 percent of the popular ballot, and not one single vote in ten of the Southern states.

It's the birthday of film and stage director Mike Nichols, born Michael Igor Peschkowsky, in Berlin, Germany (1931). Nichols' father was a prominent physician, and his grandfather was head of the German Social Democratic Party and one of the first victims of the Nazi extermination of the Jews. In 1938, the family fled Germany and settled in New York City. Nichols attended the University of Chicago and studied acting, where he met another student of the theater, Elaine May. Nichols and May, along with Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris, and Paul Sills, formed the improvisational comedy group Second City.

It's the birthday of novelist James Jones, born in Robinson, Illinois (1921), whose most famous novel was named after a line in the "Whiffenpoof" song: "We are little black sheep who have gone astray, baa, baa, baa. Gentlemen songsters out on a spree, damned from here to eternity." In December of 1941, Jones witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The following year he was sent to Guadalcanal, where he was wounded and was then returned to the United States. Army life did not agree with him, and he went AWOL several times over the next few years, until 1944, when he was given a medical discharge. In 1945, Jones went to New York to study writing. He was writing a novel, which he showed to editor Maxwell Perkins. Perkins rejected that novel, but gave Jones an unprecedented $500 advance towards his new novel, which was eventually titled From Here to Eternity. The book was published in 1951 to great critical acclaim and popularity. Within a month, it sold 90,000 copies, and the movie rights were sold for more than $80,000. The 1953 film, starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, and Frank Sinatra, was also a huge success and won eight Academy Awards.

It's the birthday of editor Harold Ross, born in Aspen, Colorado (1892). In 1925, after two years of searching for financial backing, Ross finally got the money to begin his new magazine, which he dubbed The New Yorker. The first issue appeared on February 21, 1925. The magazine set new standards in literary journalism. Ross paid obsessive attention to details, and was known as a curmudgeon with a sense of humor. He once told E. B. White: "I am not God. The realization of this came slowly and hard some years ago, but I have swallowed it by now. I am merely an angel in the Lord's vineyard." Ross presided over The New Yorker for more than 25 years, until just before his death in 1951.

It's the birthday of financial journalist Charles Henry Dow, born in Sterling, Connecticut (1851). Dow began his journalism career at the age of 21, reporting for the Springfield, Massachusetts, Daily Republican. He then moved to Providence to work for the Morning Star and Evening Press. It was there that he first met Edward Jones, a fellow reporter. In November of 1882, the two men left Keirnan to form Dow Jones and Company. They gathered the financial news, which was then written out by hand and rushed by messengers throughout the financial district. In 1884, Dow compiled the first average of selected United States stock prices that would eventually develop into the Dow Jones averages. The last delivery of financial news of the day included a news sheet that was the forerunner of The Wall Street Journal, which appeared under Dow's editorship in July of 1889. He remained the paper's editor until his death in 1902.

It's the birthday of playwright Thomas Kyd, born in London (1558). Not very much is known about Kyd, except that his best-known play, The Spanish Tragedy (1589), was one of the most popular and influential entertainments of the Elizabethan era. It was even more popular than Shakespeare's plays.

In 1492 on this day, Christopher Columbus first encountered tobacco on the island he named San Salvador. He wrote in his journal that his men "met many ... men and women, carrying in their hand a burning brand and herbs which they used to produce fragrant smoke."

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 »