Jun. 8, 2009

Summer Cottage

by Anne Porter

This is a house
That smells of melons and roses
Sea-wind pours through it
The airy curtains float
And the wiry sprays
Of the sea-lavender
Tremble on the table

The hushed roar
Of the massive ocean
Covers us night and day
It shelters us
Like a tree shadow
We live in it
As in a forest.

"Summer Cottage" by Anne Porter, from Living Things Collected Poems. © Zoland Books, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, born in Richland Center, Wisconsin (1867). He designed houses and buildings that complemented the place they were built in. He said, "The physician can bury his mistakes, but the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines." And, "I believe in God, only I spell it Nature."

It's the birthday of Scott Adams, (books by this author) born in Windham, New York (1957). He created the Dilbert cartoon, and is the author of many books, including God's Debris: A Thought Experiment (2001), about God, the Big Bang, and free will.

It was on this day in 1867 that Mark Twain (books by this author) set off on a tour of Europe and the Middle East. He traveled on a steamship with a large group of American tourists who wanted to go on a Holy Land pilgrimage. He said, "It was to be a picnic on a gigantic scale." Twain was just beginning to make a name for himself as a writer, and when he got back from the cruise, his publisher gave him six months to write a 600-page book. And he did: He published The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrim's Progress (1869), which sold the most copies of any of his books during his lifetime.

In 1886, he wrote in a letter: "When the Lord finished the world, he pronounced it good. That is what I said about my first work, too. But Time, I tell you, Time takes the confidence out of these incautious opinions. It is more than likely that He thinks about the world, now, pretty much as I think about the Innocents Abroad. The fact is, there is a trifle too much water in both."

It was on this day in 1862 that Thomas Wentworth Higginson received his third letter from Emily Dickinson. (books by this author) Her first two letters had asked for his opinion on her poetry, which he didn't like much, and he told her so. Despite this, in her third letter, she asked him to be her friend, and they kept up a correspondence for the rest of her life. They only met twice, but she considered him one of her closest friends.

Two months earlier, in April of 1862, Higginson received his first letter from Emily Dickinson. She decided to write to him after she read an article that he wrote for The Atlantic Monthly, called "Letter to a Young Contributor," which offered advice to aspiring writers. She sent him some poems and she wrote: "Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive? The Mind is so near itself — it cannot see, distinctly — and I have none to ask — Should you think it breathed — and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude." She was so shy that she didn't even sign her name — she put it on a card in a separate envelope. Higginson said that she wrote her letters "in a handwriting so peculiar that it seemed as if the writer might have taken her first lessons by studying the famous fossil bird-tracks in the museum." Higginson's letters back haven't survived, so we don't know what he said, but he wrote the editor of The Atlantic Monthly the day after he got Dickinson's letter and said: "I foresee that 'Young Contributors' will send me worse things than ever now. Two such specimens of verse as came yesterday & day before — fortunately not to be forwarded for publication!" So we can only imagine what he said in his letter to her.

In her second letter, Emily wrote: "Thank you for the surgery; it was not so painful as I supposed. I bring you others, as you ask, though they might not differ." And she wrote, "You ask of my companions. Hills, sir, and the sundown, and a dog large as myself, that my father bought me. They are better than beings because they know, but do not tell; and the noise in the pool at noon excels my piano. I have a brother and sister; my mother does not care for thought, and father, too busy with his briefs to notice what we do. He buys me many books, but begs me not to read them, because he fears they joggle the mind. They are religious, except me."

Again, we don't know Higginson's response. He probably said that she needed a friend because in her third letter she wrote: "Would you have time to be the 'friend' you should think I need? I have a little shape: it would not crowd your desk, nor make much racket as the mouse that dents your galleries. … Will you be my preceptor, Mr. Higginson?"

Eventually, she stopped asking for his advice on her poetry, and he never offered to help her get anything published. But they kept writing letters until Emily died, and she wrote to him, "You were not aware that you saved my life."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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