Jun. 26, 2007

Dutch Interior

by David Lehman

TUESDAY, 26 JUNE, 2007
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Dutch Interior" by David Lehman. Used with permission of the author.

Dutch Interior

He liked the late afternoon light as it dimmed
In the living room, and wouldn't switch on
The electric lights until past eight o'clock.
His wife complained, called him cheerless, but
It wasn't a case of melancholy; he just liked
The way things looked in air growing darker
So gradually and imperceptibly that it seemed
The very element in which we live. Every man
And woman deserves one true moment of greatness
And this was his, this Dutch interior, entered
And possessed, so tranquil and yet so busy
With details: the couple's shed clothes scattered
On the backs of armchairs, the dog chasing a shoe,
The wide open window, the late afternoon light.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 2000 that Rival scientific teams completed the first rough map of the human genome. Among the things we learned from the genome is is that the entire 6 billion-member human species goes back 7,000 generations to an original population of about 60,000 people. Our species has only a modest amount of genetic variation—the DNA of any two humans is 99.9% identical.

It's the birthday of children's book author Walter Farley, (books by this author) born in Syracuse, New York (1916). He grew up loving horses and went on to write the novel The Black Stallion (1941). It's the story of a boy and a wild stallion who survive a shipwreck and become friends on a deserted island. The book was so popular that Farley went on to write twenty novels about the horse, including The Black Stallion Returns (1945), The Black Stallion Revolts (1953), and The Black Stallion's Ghost (1969).

It's the birthday of novelist Pearl S. Buck, (books by this author) born Pearl Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia (1892). Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries, and Buck was born while they were on vacation in the United States. When she was three months old, they took her back to China. Her parents lived in the Chinese community, and Buck learned to speak Chinese before she learned to speak English. She said, "I almost ceased to think of myself as different, if indeed I ever thought so, from the Chinese."

She moved to the United States after civil war began to break out in China. She began writing a novel on the ship to America called East Wind, West Wind, which was published in 1930 and became a small success. The following year she published The Good Earth (1931), about a Chinese peasant who becomes a wealthy landowner. At the time, Westerners saw China as one of the most exotic places on earth. Pearl Buck was the first writer to portray the ordinary lives of Chinese people for a Western audience. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize and became an international bestseller.

Pearl Buck bought a farmhouse in the United States in 1934, and she never returned to China. She went on to write two sequels to The Good Earth, and many more books of fiction and non-fiction, including biographies of both her parents. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

It was on this day in 1483 that Richard Plantagenet ascended to the throne to become King Richard III. He would go down in history as perhaps the worst ruler in the history of England, and Shakespeare would immortalize him as one of literature's great villains.

This view of Richard III lasted for hundreds of years, but eventually historians began to realize that it wasn't quite accurate. The people who wrote biographies of Richard III in the wake of his death turned him into an almost mythological monster. They claimed that he had been in his mother's womb for 2 years and that when he was born he already had teeth. They also invented the idea that he was a deformed hunchback. In fact, he was in great shape and was said to fight bravely in battle.

He did seize power from his 12 year old nephew, and may have had that nephew executed, but those evens occurred after a long civil war known as the War of the Roses, during which the English throne changed hands numerous times. Historians believe Richard was probably just trying to bring some stability to the country, knowing that his 12 year old nephew would have been a puppet king.

Today there is a Richard III Society in England with several thousand members who do whatever they can to improve his reputation, petitioning the government to build statues of him and to educate the public about his life. They call themselves Ricardians and in support of the slandered king they wear Richard's badge of the White Boar on their shirt lapels.

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 Jeffrey Harrison 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 »