Tuesday

May 9, 2006

Little Night Music

by Charles Simic

TUESDAY, 9 MAY, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Little Night Music" by Charles Simic from The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late & New Poems. © Harcourt Inc. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Little Night Music

Of neighbors' voices and dishes
Being cleared away
On long summer evenings
With the windows open
As we sat on the back stairs,
Smoking and sipping beer.

The memory of that moment,
So sweet at first,
The two of us chatting away,
Till the stars made us quiet.
We drew close
And held fast to each other
As if in sudden danger.
That one time, I didn't recognize
Your voice, or dare turn
To look at your face
As you spoke of us being born
With so little apparent cause.
I could think of nothing to say.
The music over, the night cold.


Literary and Historical Notes:

On this night in 1671, Captain (Thomas) Blood tried to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Disguised as a priest, he managed to convince the Jewel House keeper to hand over his pistols. One of Captain Blood's accomplices shoved the Royal Orb down his breeches. Blood flattened the crown with a mallet and tried to run off with it, but he and his partners in crime were caught in the act. King Charles was so impressed with Blood's audacity that he pardoned him, restored his estates in Ireland, and gave him an annual pension of five hundred pounds.


It's the birthday of poet Charles Simic, (books by this author), born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (1938). His family survived the bombing of Belgrade during World War II and fled Eastern Europe after the war was over. Simic said, "My travel agents were Hitler and Stalin. They were the reason I ended up in the United States."

Simic wound up in Oak Park, Illinois, and went to the same high school Ernest Hemingway had gone to. The high school teachers there were always reminding kids that Hemingway had gone before them, and that inspired Simic to become a writer. He was drawn to poetry because his English still wasn't very good, and in poems he didn't have to use so many words.

Simic published his first book of poetry, What the Grass Says, in 1967, and he went on to publish many more collections, including School for Dark Thoughts (1978), Frightening Toys (1995), and Night Picnic (2001).

Charles Simic said, "Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them. We are always at the beginning, eternal apprentices."


It's the birthday of poet Mona Van Duyn, (books by this author), born in Waterloo, Iowa (1921). Her mother was an extremely strict and protective woman and Van Duyn often felt as though she were growing up in a prison. She had to go to bed every night at 7:30 and her mother kept her home from school for weeks on end if she showed the slightest sign of a cold. She said, "[Any] attempts at disobedience were quickly squashed by frightening threats that I would get sick and die, since my parents would refuse to pay the doctor bills."

Since she was rarely allowed to leave the house, she started reading all the time, even though her mother warned her that so much reading could cause her to lose her mind. At school, the other kids made fun of her because she was such a good student and because she was so tall. She was the tallest woman in her town and she sometimes wondered if she might be the tallest woman in the world. The only place she felt free was in her notebook, which she began filling with poetry.

After high school, she thought she wanted to be a writer or a dress designer, and only chose writing because a professor in college encouraged her. She got a degree in English and became a college professor, and finally published her first book of poetry, Valentines to the Wide World, in 1959. She was thirty-eight years old. She later said, "For half my life, nobody knew I wrote."

She published many books of poetry, including Near Changes (1990), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Her Selected Poems came out in 2002.


It's the birthday of journalist, novelist, and playwright J M (James Matthew) Barrie, (books by this author), born in Angus, Scotland (1860). He was the seventh of eight children. When he was six years old, his older brother died in a skating accident. His mother fell into a deep depression, and Barrie tried to make her feel better by wearing his older brother's clothes and doing things his older brother used to do. At some point, it occurred to Barrie that his dead brother would never grow up, and that idea led to the character of Peter Pan, who appeared in Barrie's play Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1904), which was about Peter and Wendy and Captain Hook.


It was on this day in 1960 that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the world's first birth control pill.

It was one of the first times a drug had ever been approved by the FDA for a purpose other than to cure an illness or relieve pain. It was also the first time that a new medication was known not by its official name, Enovid-10, but simply as "the pill."

Some people hoped it would end unwanted pregnancies but today about 50 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned.


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 »