Jun. 2, 2003
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Poem: "Happiness," by Raymond Carver from All of Us (Knoff).
So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.
It was on this day in 1865 that the Civil War came to a formal end. Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, surrendered, and the last Confederate army ceased to exist. The war that cost 620,000 American lives was over.
It's the birthday of Barbara Pym, born in Oswestry, Shropshire, England (1913), the author of comic novels about English upper-middle-class life, including Excellent Women (1952). In the 1960's she fell out of favor and her career languished for sixteen years until, in 1977, her name appeared twice in a Times Literary Supplement poll of the most underrated writers of the century. She made her comeback that year with her novel Quartet in Autumn. She wrote, "There are no sick people in North Oxford. They are either dead or alive. It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference, that's all."
It's the birthday of British poet and novelist Thomas Hardy, born in Higher Brocklehampton, in Dorset (1840), one of the poorest counties in the country, where rural life hadn't changed much in hundreds of years and older people spoke a local dialect similar to German. His fictional county of Wessex, where he set much of his work, was based on that landscape. He became one of the most famous English writers of his time and his work, particularly Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), is still read today. Irving Howe said that "Tess is that rare creature in literature: goodness made interesting." There have always been people who complain that Hardy's novels are too gloomy and that they end unhappily. But Hardy's books remain popular, and not just with critics: every year ten thousand people visit the cottage where he was born. Since the 1920s his Complete Poems have never gone out of print, and people who love him point to his compassion. "What are my books," he said once, "but one long plea against man's inhumanity to man, to woman, and to the lower creatures?" Jude the Obscure was considered scandalous. It's about Jude Fawley, a poor stone carver who wants to go to university but can't, and who begins a relationship with a cousin when his wife leaves him. It outraged Hardy's wife. She was afraid people would consider it autobiographical. Hardy decided to give up novels, and turned exclusively to poetry. Hardy said, "If all hearts were open and all desires known-as they would be if people showed their souls-how many gapings, sighings, clenched fists, knotted brows, broad grins, and red eyes should we see in the market-place!"
Carver, the writer who helped revitalize the short-story for a whole
generation of readers and writers, quit drinking on this day in 1977. He said,
"If you want the truth, I'm prouder of that, that I quit drinking, than
I am of anything in my life."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®