Tuesday

Oct. 17, 2006

Rereading Frost

by Linda Pastan

TUESDAY, 17 OCTOBER, 2006
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Poem: "Rereading Frost" by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W.W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Rereading Frost

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.
I also try to convince myself

that the smallest note of the smallest
instrument in the band,
the triangle for instance,
is important to the conductor

who stands there, pointing his finger
in the direction of the percussions,
demanding that one silvery ping.
And I decide not to stop trying,

at least not for a while, though in truth
I'd rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Jimmy Breslin, (books by this author) born in Jamaica, New York (1930). He wrote The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1969) and The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez (2002). Jimmy Breslin said that writers used to go to the bar and listen to the old-timers tell stories, but now "they all go to health clubs and then go home. They're in fantastic health, but they wish they were in the bar, and their wives wish they were in the bar, too."


It's the birthday of one of the greatest American playwrights of the 20th century, Arthur Miller, (books by this author) born in New York City (1915). His father was the wealthy owner of a coat factory, and the family had a large Manhattan apartment, a chauffeur, and a summer home at the beach. But the family lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929.

The family had to move to a section of Brooklyn called Gravesend, where few of the streets had been paved, and much of the neighborhood was full of vacant lots. They had been living on the sixth floor of a building on Central Park North, but they now moved into a six-room clapboard house, where Miller had to share a bedroom with his grandfather.

The neighborhood was also home to Arthur Miller's uncle on his mother's side, Manny Newman, who would captivate Miller's imagination for years. Uncle Manny was a salesman, and he was a big talker, full of schemes and hope for the future, even though he struggled to make ends meet. Miller said, "In that house ... something good was always coming up, and not just good but fantastic, transforming, triumphant."

Miller got involved in drama as a college student when he decided to enter a playwriting contest and managed to win the first prize with the first play he'd ever written. His first big success was his play All My Sons (1947).

Just before the Broadway premier of All My Sons, Miller went to an advance performance of the play in Boston. He was standing outside the theater when he looked up and saw that one of the people leaving the auditorium was his uncle Manny, whom he hadn't seen in years. He realized right away that Manny must have been on a business trip to Boston and had come to the play on a whim. Miller said, "I could see his grim hotel room behind him, the long trip up from New York in his little car, the hopeless hope of the day's business." They only spoke briefly, and all Manny had to say was that his son Buddy was doing well. A year later, Miller learned that his uncle Manny had committed suicide.

He decided that he had to write a play, based loosely on his uncle's life. He tracked down Manny's two sons, Buddy and Abby, and interviewed them about their father. Soon after those interviews, Miller set out to write his play in a tiny cabin in Connecticut.

The result was Death of a Salesman (1949). It's the story of a salesman named Willy Loman and the last 24 hours of his life with his wife, Linda, and his sons, Biff and Happy. He comes home from a business trip, carrying a case of samples, and tells his wife that he decided to cut the trip short because he's not feeling well. He spends the next day trying to figure out how to pay off his debts. In the end, he decides to kill himself in a car accident, in the hopes getting his family the insurance money.

The final scene of the play takes place at Willy Loman's funeral, and one of the characters says, "For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life. He don't put a bolt to a nut, he don't tell you the law or give you medicine. He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that's an earthquake. ... A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory."


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