Jun. 11, 2009

Horses At Midnight Without A Moon

by Jack Gilbert

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there's music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

"Horses At Midnight Without A Moon" by Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1935 that listeners first heard FM radio, when the American inventor Edwin Howard Armstrong gave a demonstration in Alpine, New Jersey. FM was much clearer than AM. Armstrong demonstrated it by playing classical music and the sound of water being poured.

It's the birthday of the novelist William Styron, (books by this author) born in Newport News, Virginia, in 1925. He served in the Marines, and then he worked at a publishing house, but he got fired, so he decided to try writing full time. He was only 26 years old when his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951), was published. He wrote many more books, including The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and Sophie's Choice (1979). He said, "The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis." And he said, "I get a fine warm feeling when I'm doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day. Let's face it, writing is hell."

It's the birthday of the Renaissance playwright and poet Ben Jonson, (books by this author) born in London in 1572. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, who acted in his plays. Jonson was known as a rogue and a troublemaker. He killed a fellow actor in a duel, and he was sent to prison three times. He was very popular, and he had a group of friends and admirers, including members of the nobility, who called themselves "the Tribe of Ben." His plays include Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610). When he died, his tombstone was inscribed with the words "O Rare Ben Jonson."

He said, "Art hath an enemy called ignorance."

And he said, "Drink today, and drown all sorrow; You shall perhaps not do it tomorrow; Best, while you have it, use your breath; There is no drinking after death."

It's the birthday of poet David Lehman, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1948. One day in 1987, the day after he had moved into a new house, he was driving back to his old rental to get the last of his stuff, and he had a sudden inspiration: to create a yearly anthology that would feature the best poems that had been published that year, and each year a different poet would select the poems. He figured that since he had just moved into a new house, it was a good time to start a new project. Publishers were hesitant because they thought that poetry would automatically lose money. But Scribner finally agreed to publish it, and The Best American Poetry 1988, edited by John Ashbery, was a huge success. David Lehman has served as the series editor ever since, and the Best American Poetry books continue to come out every September and are very popular.

David Lehman was inspired by Robert Bly, who was in turn inspired by William Stafford, to wake up early in the morning and write a poem, one poem every morning. He did that on and off for years, and once he managed to write poems for 186 consecutive days. He published two books of his favorite daily poems: The Daily Mirror (2000) and The Evening Sun (2002).

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
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  • “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
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