Feb. 10, 2007

The Blind Leading the Blind

by Lisel Mueller

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Poem: "The Blind Leading the Blind" by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems. © Louisiana State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Blind Leading the Blind

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of your throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
Once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for the occasional bits and bubbles of light —
Birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Mary McGarry Morris, (books by this author) born in Meriden, Connecticut (1943). She took 10 years to write her first novel. No one knew she was writing it in all that time. Her neighbors noticed that she was going out less and less, but no one knew why. Morris didn't want to tell anyone she was writing a novel because she didn't want people to ask how it was going. If someone came to the door unexpectedly, she'd jump up and run to the kitchen, so no one would see her at the typewriter. One night, Morris was on such a roll that she decided not to go to a party she'd been invited to. She said, "I remember sitting there thinking, I would much rather spend an evening with [these characters] than whoever may be at that cocktail party."

Morris finally finished the book, called Vanished. It was rejected by almost 30 different publishers and agents, but when an agent finally agreed to take the book, it was purchased by Viking Press just a few weeks later. It came out in 1988 and got great reviews, becoming a finalist for a National Book Award.

Her third novel, Songs in Ordinary Time (1995), sold more than a million copies. Her most recent book is The Lost Mother (2005).

It's the birthday of playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, (books by this author) born in Augsburg, Germany (1898). He started studying Karl Marx's Das Kapital when he was a young man. He came to the conclusion that most plays were catering to the rich and privileged, and he developed a revolutionary new theory of drama. He thought that theaters should be closer to political lecture halls than places of entertainment, and he wanted to encourage audiences to think about issues rather than sympathize with characters. He didn't use conventional stage props, he flashed slides and written messages on large screens, and he had actors step out of their roles to directly address the audience.

He eventually moved to the United States and settled in Hollywood to write plays and movies. He wrote more than 50 screenplays during his six years in Hollywood, but only one of them was accepted: Hangmen Also Die (1943), an anti-Nazi film that came out in the middle of World War II. But it was while he was in Hollywood that he wrote his best-known plays, The Life of Galileo (1938), Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), and The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1945).

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Doctor Zhivago (1957), Boris Pasternak, (books by this author) born in Moscow (1890). He was at first a supporter of the revolutions of 1917, but he then began to witness the political persecution and censorship under the government of Stalin. From 1934 to 1943, he published no original work, because of his fears of censorship. Instead, he made money by translating writers like Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Schiller, and Goethe, since he knew that he wouldn't be punished for publishing translations.

Then, around 1945, Pasternak began to work in secret on his masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago, an epic novel that follows the lives of more than 60 characters through the first half of 20th-century Russia. He finally finished it in 1955, and smuggled it out of the Soviet Union to a publisher in Italy. Pasternak said at the time that he knew he was signing his own death warrant, but he felt he had to go through with it. The novel came out in 1957. It was immediately banned in the Soviet Union, but it became an international best-seller, selling 7 million copies worldwide. The next year, Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he was forced to refuse it. He spent the last two years of his life living in a writer's colony, satisfied with the knowledge that his novel had been published, even if he couldn't see a printed copy. He died in 1960.

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