Nov. 25, 2009

Two Girls

by Jim Harrison

Late November (full moon last night),
a cold Patagonia moon, the misty air
tinkled slightly, a rank-smelling bull
in the creek bottom seemed to be crying.
Coyotes yelped up the canyon
where they took a trip-wire photo of a jaguar
last spring. I hope he's sleeping or eating
a delicious deer. Our two little girl dogs
are peeing in the midnight yard, nervous
about the bull. They can't imagine a jaguar.

"Two Girls" by Jim Harrison, from Saving Daylight. © Copper Canyon Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1963, John F. Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington. Reporter Jimmy Breslin described the event in the New York Herald Tribune the following day:

"At 11:15 am, Jacqueline Kennedy started walking toward the grave. She came out from under the north portico of the White House and slowly followed the body of her husband, which was in a flag-covered coffin that was strapped with two black leather belts to a black caisson that had polished brass axles. She walked straight and her head was high. She walked down the bluestone and blacktop driveway and through shadows thrown by the branches of seven leafless oak trees. She walked slowly past the sailors who held up flags of the states of this country. She walked past silent people who strained to see her and then, seeing her, dropped their heads and put their hands over their eyes ..."

It's the birthday of Leonard Woolf, (books by this author) born in London (1880). He was an incredibly prolific writer, though his literary achievements were overshadowed by his famous wife, novelist Virginia Woolf, (books by this author) for whom he was first reader, major editor, and great encourager.

He started his adult life not as a writer but as a civil servant for Britain's colonial government. In 1904, he left for Ceylon with his dog and 90 volumes of Voltaire, and stayed there until 1911. When he first got leave to return to England, he resigned from his post in Ceylon, saying, "The position of a semiautocratic ruler was not congenial to me." He decided to try to earn a living writing. The first book that he wrote was a novel based on his time in Ceylon, The Village in the Jungle (1913).

Back in England, he got in touch with some of his college friends from Cambridge, and he started dining with them on Thursday evenings as part of the "Bloomsbury Group." He even rented a room in a house where some of the Bloomsbury folk lived, including siblings Adrian and Virginia Stephen.

At first, though, Leonard Woolf was interested in wooing Vanessa Stephen, Virginia's sister. Vanessa married a mutual friend, Clive Bell, and Leonard turned his attentions to Virginia. He proposed, and she hesitated to accept. But eventually she agreed; they became engaged and were married in their early 30s. It turned out to be a happy and companionable marriage. They had an active social life, regularly dining with various London literati and intellectuals, sometimes individually and sometimes as a couple.

They were productive together. While married to Virginia Woolf, Leonard published a book of his own nearly every other year, while simultaneously poring over her manuscripts and editing a number of prestigious political journals. Within a span of five years, she published Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and A Room of One's Own (1929). But while productive, she was also plagued by recurring bipolar episodes. Leonard kept notes about her illness in his diary, but he coded the notes in Tamil and Sinhalese so no one finding the diary would easily be able to read the notes. He also suffered from severe depression.

In 1941, with war raging in Europe, Virginia Woolf feared that she was on the verge of another breakdown. On March 28, she filled the pockets of her jacket with rocks, waded into the River Ouse and drowned herself. Her last note was to her husband Leonard. It ended:
 "What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. ... I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V."

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




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