Wednesday

Aug. 18, 2010

Perfect Woman

by William Wordsworth

She was a phantom of delight
When first she gleam'd upon my sight;
A lovely apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;
Her eyes as star of twilight fair;
Like twilight's, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful dawn;
A dancing shape, an image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and waylay.

I saw her upon nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A creature not too bright or good
For human nature's daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.

And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A being breathing thoughtful breath,
A traveller between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly plann'd
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light.

"Perfect Woman" by William Wordsworth. Public domain. (buy now)

No one knows for sure when the Mongol boy Temujin was born, but he grew up be a great leader and warrior. And on this day in 1227, Genghis Khan died, leaving behind an empire that stretched from the east coast of China across to Russia and down to the Aral Sea. The empire continued to grow after his death, and by 1280, it covered 12 million square miles, about two-thirds of the "known world" at the time. The Mongol Empire was the largest connected empire in history — only the British Empire exceeded it.

Because Genghis Khan fathered so many children over such a huge expanse of land, a few years ago a team of geneticists did a DNA study and concluded that about 16 million men alive today are descendents of Genghis Khan — about half a percent of the male population.

On this day in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov's (books by this author) novel Lolita was published in the United States by G.P. Putnam's Sons. It had been published first in France, three years earlier, by Olympia Press, which mostly published erotica. The first Olympia edition of 5,000 sold out quickly, but it didn't get any serious reviews until Graham Greene got his hands on it and wrote a review in a major London newspaper calling Lolita the best book of 1955. Then it got so much interest that the British Customs started confiscating copies coming into the country, and it was banned in various places on counts of pornography.

American publishers were reluctant to publish Lolita. The story goes that one of the young editors at Putnam had a girlfriend who was a showgirl in Paris, and she heard about Lolita and recommended it to him. That editor took it on, and when it was published, it set off a huge controversy. But it was also an immediate best-seller — reviews calling it filthy and pornographic certainly helped its sales — and it sold more than 100,000 copies in one week, the first novel that had done so since Gone with the Wind.

When someone asked him why he wrote Lolita, he said: "Why did I write any of my books, after all? For the sake of the pleasure, for the sake of the difficulty. I have no social purpose, no moral message; I've no general ideas to exploit, I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions."

It was on this day in 1850 that the French writer Honoré de Balzac (books by this author) died, a death that was probably fueled by his coffee addiction. Balzac drank between 20 and 40 cups of intense Turkish coffee every day.

Balzac produced a huge body of work, nearly 100 novels, stories, and plays that are known as La Comédie humaine. He worked for about 15 hours each day, and he sustained himself with massive amounts of coffee, pipe tobacco, and food.

Balzac suggested drinking strong coffee on an empty stomach as a writing method. He said: "Everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination's orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink — for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder."

Balzac had been married for five months at the time of his death, but his wife had gone to bed and his mother was the only one with him when he died. He was 51 years old.

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 Jeffrey Harrison 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 »