Thursday

Sep. 28, 2006

Messenger

by Mary Oliver

THURSDAY, 28 SEPTEMBER, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Messenger" by Mary Oliver from Thirst.© Beacon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The text of this poem is no longer available.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1066 that William the Conqueror of Normandy arrived on British soil. He defeated the British in the Battle of Hastings, and on Christmas Day, he was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.

One of the most important consequences of the Norman conquest of England was its effect on the English language. At the time, the British were speaking a combination of Saxon and Old Norse. The Normans spoke French. Over time, the languages blended, and the result was that English became a language incredibly rich in synonyms. Because the French speakers were aristocrats, the French words often became the fancy words for things. The Saxons had "house"; the Normans gave us "mansion." The Saxons had "cow"; the Normans gave us "beef." The Normans gave us "excrement," for which the Saxons had lots of four letter words.

The English language has gone on accepting additions to its vocabulary ever since the Norman invasion, and it now contains more than a million words, making it one of the most diverse languages on Earth.


It's the birthday of John Sayles, (books by this author) born in Schenectady, New York (1950). He's one of a few writers who have gone on to become a successful filmmakers. His first novel, Pride of the Bimbos (1975), is about five men who make a living playing exhibition baseball games dressed as women. He went on to publish his second novel, Union Dues (1977), and a collection of stories, The Anarchists' Convention (1979), both of which got great reviews.

But Sayles was also interested in the movies, and he got his first screenwriting job on a horror movie called Piranha (1978). He said, "My whole job was to contrive a reason why people, once they hear there are piranhas in the river, don't just stay out of the river but end up getting eaten. That's basically what they paid me $10,000 for."

Sayles has gone to write and direct his own movies, including Matewan (1987), Passion Fish (1992), and Lone Star (1996).


It's the birthday of cartoonist Al Capp, (books by this author) born Alfred Gerald Caplin in New Haven, Connecticut (1909). He created the cartoon strip Li'l Abner, about a hillbilly named Abner Yokum who lived in the fictional town of Dogpatch, Kentucky. The strip ran from 1934 to 1977.


It's the birthday of Kate Douglas Wiggin, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1856). She wrote Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1910).


It's the birthday of Ed Sullivan, born in New York City (1902). He was a gossip columnist who went on to become one of the first hosts of a national television show in America. The Ed Sullivan Show, originally called Toast of the Town, premiered live on CBS in 1948, and within a few years about 50 million people watched it every Sunday night. His formula was, "Open big, have a good comedy act, put in something for children, and keep the show clean."


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 »