Mar. 7, 2009


by Robert Hass

Because yesterday morning from the steamy window
we saw a pair of red foxes across the creek
eating the last windfall apples in the rain—
they looked up at us with their green eyes
long enough to symbolize the wakefulness of living things
and then went back to eating—

and because this morning
when she went into the gazebo with her black pen and yellow pad
to coax an inquisitive soul
from what she thinks of as the reluctance of matter,
I drove into town to drink tea in the cafe
and write notes in a journal—mist rose from the bay
like the luminous and indefinite aspect of intention,
and a small flock of tundra swans
for the second winter in a row was feeding on new grass
in the soaked fields; they symbolize mystery, I suppose,
they are also called whistling swans, are very white,
and their eyes are black—

and because the tea steamed in front of me,
and the notebook, turned to a new page,
was blank except for a faint blue idea of order,
I wrote: happiness! it is December, very cold,
we woke early this morning,
and lay in bed kissing,
our eyes squinched up like bats.

"Happiness" by Robert Hass, from Sun Under Wood. © The Ecco Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1923, Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" was published in the The New Republic magazine. It's a poem about winter, but Frost wrote the first draft on a warm morning in the middle of June. He had stayed up all night, sitting at his kitchen table and working on a long, difficult poem called "New Hampshire." He finally finished it, and then looked up and saw that it was morning. He went outside to watch the sun rise, and while he was outside, he suddenly got an idea for a new poem. So he rushed back in and wrote "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in just a few minutes. He said he wrote most of the poem almost without lifting his pen off the page.

It's the birthday of William York Tindall, (books by this author) born in Williamstown, Vermont (1903). He had heard about the notorious book Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce, and he decided to buy a copy while he was traveling in Paris, since it was banned in the United States. He became obsessed with Joyce and read all of his books. He started teaching a course in modern literature at Columbia University, and he was one of the first professors in the United States to assign Ulysses to his students. He wrote four books about Joyce, including A Reader's Guide to James Joyce (1959) and A Reader's Guide to Finnegans Wake (1969).

It's the birthday of Scottish novelist and playwright William Boyd, (books by this author) born in Accra, Ghana (1952). His father was a doctor who specialized in tropical medicine. His first book, A Good Man in Africa (1981), is a comical account of a bumbling young British diplomat. In 1998, he published Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928–1960, a fictional biography of an abstract expressionist painter.

William Boyd said about his work habits: "I try to put in a good eight hours a day. Often I write in libraries. I don't have to be inspired. I don't need total silence. I don't worry about writer's block, which I think is a self-fulfilling prophecy. ... I do enjoy writing. I know some writers enjoy the invention but find the writing an endless night of the soul. I don't. I think, if you can earn your living writing fiction, it's very agreeable."

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 »