Jul. 4, 2005
How To Be a Poet
Poem: "How To Be a Poet" by Wendell Berry from Given New Poems, © Shoemaker, Hoard, Washington, D.C. Reprinted with permission.
How To Be a Poet
(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skillmore of each
than you haveinspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.
Literary and Historical Notes:
Today is Independence Day. On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England. The Declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson in a little second floor room on Market Street in Philadelphiaon a little lap desk that he designed himself. The Congress had wanted Benjamin Franklin to write it, but he declined, and then John Adams declined because he said Jefferson was ten times a better writer than he was.
Benjamin Franklin made a few new changes. Jefferson had written, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable." Franklin changed that to, "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
The Congress cut out an entire paragraph in which Jefferson had attacked the king for perpetuating the slave trade. They cut about 480 words out of his draft, leaving 1,337. Jefferson found the whole process rather painful.
The 4th of July became a big holiday after the war of 1812 and out on the American frontier, it was the one time of the year when everyone gathered in town from all over the countryside for parades and speeches, and the prettiest girl would be named the Goddess of Liberty, and politicians would get up and denounce the king and men would get drunk and insult each other, call each other Englishmen, and get into fights.
It's the birthday of the great American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, born in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). His first novel, Fanshawe, he considered so awful that he tried to track down and destroy every copy that he could find.
He lost his job when he was 45 years old. He was in despair. He came home, told his wife the news, and she said, "Now you can write your book." She opened up a desk drawer and there was a pile of gold pieces that she had saved out of the household allowance, $150, enough to support them for several months. He sat down and he wrote The Scarlet Letter, which came out the next year and made his reputation.
It was on this day in 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into his cabin on Walden Pond.
On this day in 1855, the first edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was printed. It was 12 poems and a preface. The printers were friends of his and so they didn't charge Whitman for the work.
It's the birthday of Lionel Trilling, born in New York City (1905), the man who said, "Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®