Aug. 5, 2009


by Ellie Schoenfeld

My country is this dirt
that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.
The soil does not care
what we think about or who we love.
It knows our true substance,
of what we are really made.
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
recruit us all
to its side.

"Patriotism" by Ellie Schoenfeld, from The Dark Honey. © Clover Valley Press, 2009. Published with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Guy de Maupassant, (books by this author) born in Normandy (1850), one of the great French short-story writers. In the decade from 1880 to 1890, he wrote 300 stories, while also writing most of his other work, including five novels.

It's the birthday of poet, novelist, and essayist Conrad Aiken, (books by this author) born in Savannah, Georgia (1889). When he was nine, he decided to become a poet. Two years later, his father, a Harvard-educated surgeon, shot his mother and then committed suicide. The 11-year-old Aiken heard the shots and found the bodies. He later described the scene: "After the desultory early-morning quarrel, came the half-stifled scream, and the sound of [my] father's voice counting three, and the two loud pistol shots and [I] tiptoed into the dark room, where the two bodies lay motionless, and apart, and, finding them dead, found [myself] possessed of them forever."

He went to Massachusetts to live with a great-great-aunt, and there he grew up listening to the sermons of his Darwinist-Unitarian-minister grandfather. He enrolled in Harvard, the same place his father had gone to medical school. There he read poetry, became friends with T.S. Eliot, and edited a campus literary magazine, The Advocate. In his senior year, he got elected class poet and ditched class for two weeks so that he could concentrate on writing an English poem based on the French short story, "La morte amoureuse." He was suspended for skipping classes; defiant, he took off for Italy, returning half a year later to graduate.

Two years after that, he published his first book of poems, Earth Triumphant (1914). It was well received and established his reputation as an emerging poet. In 1930, Aiken won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Selected Poems. In 1932, he attempted suicide. He spent the years of 1934 to 1936 in England, working as a correspondent for The New Yorker and contributing "London Letters" to the magazine.

Conrad Aiken was incredibly prolific: He wrote or edited more than 50 books. One of the things that he compiled and edited was a collection of Emily Dickinson's poetry, and it was Aiken's work that helped to establish Dickinson's reputation as a great American poet. She'd been virtually unheard of at the time of her death.

He died in 1973 and left instructions that his tombstone be made in the shape of a bench, so that people could stop by at the grave and have a Madeira. Aiken's tombstone in Savannah, Georgia, reads, "Give my love to the world" and "Cosmos Mariner — Destination Unknown." His gravesite became famous after John Berendt wrote about it in his true-crime novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994). Conrad wrote in a self-obituary: "Separate we come, and separate we go, / And this be it known, is all that we know."

Conrad Aiken wrote:
"All lovely things will have an ending,
All lovely things will fade and die,
And youth, that's now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by."

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




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