Sunday

Sep. 27, 2009

The Wild Swans At Coole

by William Butler Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodlands paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

"The Wild Swans at Coole" by W.B. Yeats, from Collected Poems. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Kay Ryan, (books by this author) born in San Jose, California (1945). She's the current U.S. poet laureate and the author of the poetry collections Strangely Marked Metal (1985), Elephant Rocks (1996), Say Uncle (2000) and The Niagara River (2005).

Kay Ryan is a lifetime Californian, though she has migrated through the state's vastly varied landscapes: She grew up in small towns among San Joaquin Valley's fertile farmlands and in the stark desert landscape of the Mojave, where her family were parishioners, she says, of the "Church of Proximity" — whichever denomination happened to be closest to their house. She spent six years studying English literature surrounded by Brentwood and Bel Air mansions at UCLA, where she was excluded from the school poetry club because, she recalls, she was thought of as "too much of an outsider." Since the 1970s, she's lived along Francis Drake Boulevard in Fairfax, a small town in Marin County (just north of San Francisco), a town in which reusable canvas bags and signs proclaiming "Buy local" and "Organic" abound.

She started writing poetry at age 19, the year her father died while reading a book on how to get rich quick. Throughout her 20s, she wrote some poems, but it was mostly something she did in her spare time. Then, age 29, she decided to bicycle across the country with some friends, hoping that the 4,000-mile trek would give her time to think about what she was going to do with her life. She started on the West Coast, and as she was pedaling through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, she said, "The repetitive, rhythmic exercise gave [her] a sense of oneness with [her] surroundings." It felt as though, she said, "I could pass through the pine trees and they through me."

At that moment, she asked the universe, "Should I be a writer?" She said that the universe answered with a question: "Do you like it?" Her response was a resounding affirmative, and in that moment, she felt that she "wasn't bound by the ordinary structures of ego."

When she returned to California, she went about setting up her life so that she could devote as much of it as possible to poetry. She got a job teaching basic writing skills to junior college students at the College of Marin in Kentfield. She taught only Tuesdays and Thursdays and lived frugally so that she could spend the other five days a week writing poetry. Kay Ryan has an unusual writing routine. After breakfast and reading the newspaper, she reads "difficult books," in order, she says, "to help get my mind up to speed." And she writes the first drafts of her poems on pads of yellow paper.

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 Sharon Olds 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 »