Apr. 13, 2009

Man Eating

by Jane Kenyon

The man at the table across from mine
is eating yogurt. His eyes, following
the progress of the spoon, cross briefly
each time it nears his face. Time,

and the world with all its principalities,
might come to an end as prophesied
by the Apostle John, but what about
this man, so completely present

to the little carton with its cool,
sweet food, which has caused no animal
to suffer, and which he is eating
with a pearl-white plastic spoon.

"Man Eating" by Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

It's the birthday of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, born on his father's plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia (1743).

It's the birthday of writer Eudora Welty, (books by this author) born in Jackson, Mississippi (1909). She wrote several novels, including The Optimist's Daughter (1972), but she's best known for her short stories. She wrote and rewrote, revising her stories by cutting them apart with scissors at the dining-room table and reassembling them with straight pins.

It's the birthday of Samuel Beckett, (books by this author) born in Foxrock, a rich suburb of Dublin, Ireland (1906). He studied French literature in college and then went to graduate school in Paris, where he met James Joyce, who by that time was growing blind and working on Finnegans Wake. Beckett became one of Joyce's research assistants. He read books to Joyce, took dictation, and walked with him around Paris. He idolized Joyce so much that he began to smoke like Joyce and carry himself like Joyce; he even wrote like Joyce in his first long work of fiction, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, which wasn't published until 1992, after his death.

Samuel Beckett eventually found his own voice and wrote many novels and plays, including his most famous, Waiting for Godot (1952). In 1969, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He wrote, "Where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on."

It's the birthday of Seamus Heaney, (books by this author) born in County Derry, Northern Ireland(1939). He grew up on his family's farm at Mossbawn, the oldest of nine children, and they all lived together in a three-room thatched house.

He went to Queen's University Belfast, where he joined the Gaelic society and the drama club and wrote for the school's literary magazine. And while he studied both Gaelic literature and the literature of England, he was firmly committed to the Irish tradition. He said, "I have maintained a notion of myself as Irish in a province that insists it is British."

He objected to being included in the 1982 Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry. He wrote:
Don't be surprised if I demur, for, be advised
My passport's green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
To toast The Queen.

In Belfast in the 1960s, Heaney hung out with a small group of aspiring poets who became known as "The Group." They wrote about things that were familiar to them, the people and places that they knew, following the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh's belief that "Parochialism is universal; it deals with the fundamentals."

In "Digging," one of his most celebrated early poems, he wrote:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.

Under my window a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down […]

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

In 1969, violence erupted in Northern Ireland, beginning the 30-year era known as "The Troubles." The violence had a profound effect on Heaney's poetry and on his sense of duty as a poet. He wrote, "The question, as ever, is 'How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea?' And my answer is, by offering 'befitting emblems of adversity.'"

In 1995, Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize in literature.

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 »