Wednesday

Mar. 31, 2010

Mud, Apples, Milk

by Michael Walsh

Of all things to miss, it's silly
to miss how cows drowse in mud.
They blink slow as toads.
Instead I should miss
light on the blond corn
or trails of gravel dust
that rose like kites and vanished.

But I don't miss that.
I miss how I could bring
bruised apples, press them
like smelling salts
to sleepy noses.
You had to let go
real fast or risk a finger
to the lick and snap.

I miss their udders too,
the mud fresh as wax
on the swollen skin.
Each day I broke the seals
with hot rags, and milk
flooded my palm—
a white creek down
the gully of my wrist.

"Mud, Apples, Milk" by Michael Walsh, from The Dirt Riddles. © University of Arkansas Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the English poet Andrew Marvell, (books by this author) born at Winestead-in-Holderness, Yorkshire, England (1621), who wrote the poem "To His Coy Mistress":

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime ...
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Octavio Paz, (books by this author) born in Mexico City (1914), the son of a lawyer and the grandson of a novelist. In 1950, he published a monumental essay on Mexican national character and culture, The Labyrinth of Solitude. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1990.

On this day in 1889, the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated in Paris. It was built for the Paris Exposition as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, and also as a demonstration of the structural capabilities of iron. The tower elicited strong reactions after its opening. A petition of 300 names, including writers Guy de Maupassant, Émile Zola, and Alexandre Dumas the younger, was sent to the city government protesting its construction, declaring it "useless" and a "monstrosity."

De Maupassant hated the tower so much that he started eating in its restaurant every day, because, he said, "It is the only place in Paris where I don't have to see it."

It's the birthday of one of the greatest intellectuals of all time, a man known as "the Father of Modern Philosophy," René Descartes, (books by this author) born in 1596 in La Haye en Touraine, France, which is now named for him, Descartes, France. He's the author of a text that is still required reading for philosophy students around the world, Meditations on First Philosophy (1641).

And he's the man who, in 1637, said, "Cogito ergo sum" — "I think therefore I am." Of course, since he was a Frenchman, he first wrote it as "Je pense donc je suis."

The statement is the sum of an argument in his work Discourse on the Method (1637), written nearly 400 years ago. He realized that some of his ideas about science, like those of his colleague Galileo, were controversial. So he decided to write a book to prove that skepticism about the laws of nature was a necessary step in understanding nature. In it, he described his own experience of methodological skepticism, where he rejected any idea that could be doubted, and then required proof for the idea in order for it to be accepted as knowledge. He doubted everything, even his own existence. But he came to realize that the one thing he could not doubt was the existence of his own thoughts. If he was doubting, he was thinking; if he was thinking, then he existed. Hence his famous conclusion: "I think, therefore I am."

Descartes had been a sickly child, went to Jesuit schools, spent most of his life staying in bed till noon, got a law degree, then settled in the Netherlands, and in his 20 years there, he did most of the writing for which he is famous. When he was in his 50s, Queen Christina of Sweden — age 23 — invited him to Stockholm to be her tutor. It was a job that required him to rise at 5 a.m. every day. He was sleep-deprived, caught a fever, and eventually came down with pneumonia, which killed him.

In the mid-1800s, 72 of Descartes' letters were stolen from the Institut de France. In the 150 years since, France has managed to get back about half of them. Another one was found serendipitously in January of this year by a Dutch scholar named Erik-Jan Bos; he first noticed a citation to the letter while perusing the online archive contents of Haverford College in Pennsylvania, which has an autographed manuscript collection. Haverford had acquired the letter by donation a century ago, unaware that it was stolen. In a New York Times article last month entitled "Descartes Letter Found, Therefore It Is," Patricia Cohen reports that Haverford College's president, who majored in philosophy many years ago, plans to hand-deliver the letter to the Institut de France this June, and that the letter will be published in a collection this year.

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 »