Friday

Aug. 12, 2005

Thinking about the Past

by Donald Justice

FRIDAY, 12 AUGUST, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Thinking about the Past" by Donald Justice, from Selected Poetry and Prose © Middlebury College Press. Reprinted with permission.

Thinking about the Past

Certain moments will never change, nor stop being—
My mother's face all smiles, all wrinkles soon;
The rock wall building, built, collapsed then, fallen;
Our upright loosening downward slowly out of tune—
All fixed into place now, all rhyming with each other.
That red—haired girl with wide mouth—Eleanor—
Forgotten thirty years—her freckled shoulders, hands.
The breast of Mary Something, freed from a white swimsuit,
Damp, sandy, warm; or Margery's, a small, caught bird—
Darkness they rise from, darkness they sink back toward.
O marvelous early cigarettes! O bitter smoke, Benton...
And Kenny in wartime whites, crisp, cocky,
Time a bow bent with his certain failure.
Dusks, dawns; waves; the ends of songs...


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Katherine Lee Bates, born in Falmouth, Massachusetts (1859), who wrote the poem that begins,

"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!"

She was a poet and professor of English at Wellsley, who, in the summer of 1893, traveled with a group of teachers to Colorado, hiked to the top of Pikes Peak, and said, "I was looking out over the expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, [when] the opening lines of [a poem] floated into my mind." And by the time she left Colorado, she had written four stanzas in her notebook of "America the Beautiful," which was published on the 4th of July, 1895. It was set to music about ten years later.


It's the birthday of classics scholar Edith Hamilton, born in Dresden, Germany (1867), to American parents. She grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her father believed in education for young ladies, so she started learning Latin and Greek as a child. She went on to study classics in Europe. She was the head mistress of a prep school. After her retirement, she wrote a book about Greek civilization called The Greek Way, followed in 1942 by her book Mythology. For many years, American children first learned about Hercules and Medusa and Odysseus from the book by Edith Hamilton.


It's the birthday of the poet Donald Justice, born in Miami (1925). He grew up in Florida during the Great Depression. His father was an itinerant carpenter, but his parents gave their boy piano lessons, which inspired Donald Justice to try to become a composer. He eventually switched to writing.

He started out as a minimalist poet. He came out with a book about once every ten years. And then in 1982, went back to his home state of Florida and found the landscape so different that he suddenly began to write poem after poem about his childhood. He died in 2004, just a few weeks before his collected poems came out.


It's the birthday of novelist Wallace Markfield, born in Brooklyn (1926). He is author of You Could Live If They Let You, Teitelbaum's Window, and To An Early Grave.


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 Sharon Olds 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 »