Dec. 31, 2009

Eleven Addresses to the Lord

by John Berryman

Sole watchman of the flying stars, guard me
against my flicker of impulse lust: teach me
to see them as sisters & daughters. Sustain
my grand endeavours: husbandship & crafting.

Forsake me not when my wild hours come;
grant me sleep nightly, grace soften my dreams;
achieve in me patience till the thing be done,
a careful view of my achievement come.

Make me from time to time the gift of the shoulder.
When all hurt nerves whine shut away the whiskey.
Empty my heart toward Thee.
Let me pace without fear the common path of death.

Cross am I sometimes with my little daughter:
fill her eyes with tears: Forgive me, Lord.
Unite my various soul,
sole watchman of the wide & single stars.

"Eleven Addresses to the Lord" by John Berryman, from Love and Fame. © Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Junot Díaz, (books by this author) born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (1968). His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of Nicholas Sparks, (books by this author) born in Omaha, Nebraska (1965). He wrote The Notebook (1996) and A Walk to Remember (1999), and he said: "Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It's one of themost enjoyable moments in life."

Today is New Year's Eve, a day to take stock of the old year and make changes for a new year.

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

Thus ends this year, to my great joy, in this manner. I have raised my estate from 1300l. in this year to 4400l. I have got myself interest, I think, by my diligence [...] It is true we have gone through great melancholy because of the great plague [...] But now the plague is abated almost to nothing, and I intending to get to London as fast as I can. [...] I have never lived so merrily (besides that I never got so much) as I have done this plague time [...] and great store of dancings we have had at my cost (which I was willing to indulge myself and wife) at my lodgings. My whole family hath been well all this while, and all my friends I know of, saving my aunt Bell, who is dead, and some children of my cozen Sarah's, of the plague. But many of such as I know very well, dead; yet, to our great joy, the town fills apace, and shops begin to be open again. Pray God continue the plague's decrease! for that keeps the Court away from the place of business, and so all goes to rack as to publick matters, they at this distance not thinking of it.

1665 had been an awful year in London. The plague began to spread in April, with just a few people dead by the end of the month. But by August, 31,159 people died in that month alone. Overall, about 15 percent of London's population was killed. And Pepys believed that the death toll was even higher than recorded because he had heard first-hand that sometimes clerks were so overwhelmed with names that they didn't bother writing them all down.

In late June, King Charles II and his court left London for Oxford, and many rich people did the same, applying for "health certificates" and heading to country estates. A lot of the wealthy doctors went with them. By early July, Pepys had sent his mother and wife away to Woolwich, outside London. But he did not want to leave. He stayed in London to work, and he recorded in his diary how empty the streets were, with all the shops closed, and how sad it was to see corpses abandoned in the street or houses with red crosses on them and the words "Lord Have Mercy On Us" scrawled on the outside.

On this day in 1845, Robert Browning (books by this author) wrote a letter to Elizabeth Barrett, (books by this author) and he said:

Dearest, whatever change the new year brings with it, we are together — I can give you no more of myself [...] Believe you are my blessing and infinite reward beyond possible desert in intention — my life has been crowned by you, as I said! May God bless you ever — through you I shall be blessed.

They weren't literally together on this New Year's Eve. Barrett was still at home, an invalid guarded over by her jealous father who refused to let any of his children marry, and Browning got to see her only occasionally. But they continued writing passionate letters, like the one Browning sent on New Year's Eve.

The new year did bring real changes for the couple. By the end of January in 1846, Elizabeth had consented to get married, to leave her father, and go to Italy. Throughout the summer, her health got better. In September, they were married quietly at St. Marylebone Parish Church, with only her servant and his cousin as witnesses. After the wedding, Elizabeth went back home, and still no one in her family knew what happened. One week later, she snuck out of the house, got on a train, and met her husband in Paris. From there they went to Italy, where they lived until her death in 1861.

Langston Hughes (books by this author) wrote about this day in 1937:

[...] Slowly I walked through the lightly falling snow that had begun to sift down over the Paris rooftops in scattered indecisive flakes. [...] How still it was in this old, old city of Paris in the first hour of the New Year. The year before, I had been in Cleveland. The year before that in San Francisco. The year before that in Mexico City. The one before that at Carmel. And the year before Carmel in Tashkent. Where would I be when the next New Year came, I wondered?

In the early 1920s, Hughes spent awhile working on ships and traveling through Europe, and he spoke Spanish. So in the summer of 1937, he took a job for the Baltimore newspaper Afro-American as a correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War. For a few months, he wrote 22 articles about the Spanish Civil War, especially focusing on African-Americans fighting for the Loyalists with the International Brigade (against the fascists). He hung out with Ernest Hemingway (books by this author) and the Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén. (books by this author) And he worked on translating poetry by Federico García Lorca. (books by this author)

In the first days of January in 1939, Tennessee Williams (books by this author) wrote a letter to his mother about his first New Year's Eve in New Orleans.

He left home on December 26th and stayed all night with his grandparents in Memphis, and from there he submitted some plays to a contest in New York, and he felt inspired to sign them not as "Tom Williams" but "Tennessee Williams." And so, at the end of this year of 1938, Tom became Tennessee, and arrived in New Orleans, the city that would become his lifelong home and the setting of many of his plays. He wrote to his mother: "The Lippmann's friends have been lovely to me. They invited me to a New Year's Eve party which lasted till day-break and traveled through about half-a-dozen different homes or studios and I met most of the important artists and writers. They are all very friendly and gracious. [...] I'm crazy about the city."

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




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