Friday

Jun. 30, 2006

The Farm

by Donald Hall

FRIDAY, 30 JUNE, 2006
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Poem: "The Farm" by Donald Hall from White Apples and the Taste of Stone. © Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Farm

Standing on top of the hay
in a good sweat,
I felt the wind from the lake
dry on my back,
where the chaff
grew like the down on my face.

At night on the bare boards
of the kitchen,
we stood while the old man
in his nightshirt gummed
the stale crusts
of his bread and milk.

Up on the gray hill
behind the barn, the stones
had fallen away
where the Penacook marked
a way to go
south from the narrow river.

By the side of the lake
my dead uncle's rowboat rots
in heavy bushes.
Slim pickerel glint
in the water. Black horned pout
doze on the bottom


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1857 that Charles Dickens gave his first public reading, (books by this author). He did this for several reasons: to get away from marital discord at home, because he loved to perform in front of an audience, and because he could make more money reading than he could by writing. His first reading, of A Christmas Carol, was held at Saint Martin's Hall in London, and it was so successful that Charles Dickens became one of the first authors to go on huge, international book tours, performing his own work. He even went to America, where one of the people who saw him perform was Mark Twain.


It was on this day in 1936 that the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was first published, (books by this author). When she handed the manuscript over to editors, it was in terrible shape, with more than a thousand pages of faded and dog-eared paper, poorly typed and with penciled changes. But they loved the story. They asked Mitchell to change the original title, "Tomorrow Is Another Day," because at the time there were already thirteen books in print with the word "Tomorrow" in the title. They also asked her to change the main character's name from Pansy to Scarlett.

Mitchell later said, "I just couldn't believe that a Northern publisher would accept a novel about the War Between the States from the Southern point of view." But Gone with the Wind broke all publication records. The year it came out, employees at the Macmillan publishing company received Christmas bonuses for the first time in nearly a decade.


It's the birthday of poet Czeslaw Milosz, (books by this author) born in Szetejnie, Lithuania (1911). Milosz studied law rather than literature in college because, he said, "There were so many girls studying literature it was called the marriage department." In 1931 he cofounded a literary group that was so pessimistic about the future it was nicknamed the "Catastrophists." The group predicted a coming world war, but nobody believed them. He worked for Polish Radio for a while, but he got fired when he let Jews broadcast their opinions on the air. Another radio station sent him to cover the invasion of Poland by Nazi forces in 1939. After the invasion, he found a job as a janitor at a university, secretly writing anti-Nazi poetry for underground publications. He witnessed the genocide of the Jews in Warsaw, and was one of the first poets to write about it in his book of poems Rescue (1945).

After the war, Milosz got a job working as a diplomat for communist Poland, though he wasn't a party member. One night in the winter of 1949, on his way home from a government meeting, he saw several jeeps filled with political prisoners, surrounded by soldiers. He said, "It was then that I realized what I was part of." He defected in 1951, and made it to Paris even though his passport had been confiscated.

He moved to the United States and began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley in 1960. He kept writing poetry in Polish, even though almost no one was reading it. His books had been banned in Poland, and his poems weren't translated into English until 1973. Then, in 1980, he got a phone call at 3:00 in the morning telling him that he'd won the Nobel Prize for literature.


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