Monday

Dec. 20, 2010

Winter-Worship

by Charles Wright

   Mother of Darkness, Our Lady,
   Suffer our supplications,
                                     our hurts come unto you.
   Hear us from absence your dwelling place,
   Whose ear we plead for.
                                       End us our outstay.

   Where darkness is light, what can the dark be,
                                                                        whose eye is single,
   Whose body is filled with splendor
In winter,
              inside the snowflake, inside the crystal of ice
Hung like Jerusalem from the tree.

January, rain-wind and sleet-wind,
Snow pimpled and pock-marked,
                                                  half slush-hearted, half brocade
Under your noon-dimmed day watch,
Whose alcove we harbor in,
                                         whose waters are beaded and cold.

A journey's a fragment of Hell,
                                       one inch or a thousand miles.
   Darken our disbelief, dog our steps.
   Inset our eyesight,
   Radiance, loom and sting,
                                         whose ashes rise from the flames.

"Winter-Worship" by Charles Wright, from Negative Blue: Selected Later Poems © Macmillan, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Elizabeth Benedict, (books by this author) born in Hartford, Connecticut (1954), the daughter of a salesman and a sculptor. She went off to college thinking she'd be an art historian. But the day before her 19th birthday she received back a graded paper from a professor who'd written on it that she evidently wanted to be a novelist. That night she returned to her dorm room, took out a notebook and wrote, "I must write in this book every day, it does not matter what, and one day it will turn into fiction."

She worked for the Mexican American Legal Defense and wrote her first novel, Slow Dancing (1985), about an immigration lawyer. It was nominated for the National Book Award. She's also the author of the novel The Beginner's Book of Dreams (1988), Safe Conduct (1993), an instructional book called The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers (1996), and the books Almost (2001) and The Practice of Deceit (2005).

She edited an anthology, Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives (2009), which came out just last year.

She said: "If it were denied me to write, I imagine I would die. Writing fiction is the way I make sense of my own deepest experience of life. But the challenge is always to transform my own feelings, failings, and insights into a fictional universe much larger, more varied, and … more compelling than the extremely personal with which I begin."

It's the birthday of Sandra Cisneros, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1954), best known for her book The House on Mango Street (1984), a novel of vignettes based on her teenage years in a run-down Chicago neighborhood. The book got hardly any attention when it was published 26 years ago, but has since sold more than 2 million copies, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and become required reading at middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the U.S.

In The House on Mango Street she wrote:
I like to tell stories, I tell them inside my head. I tell them after the mailman says, Here's your mail. Here's your mail he said.
I make a story for my life, for each step my brown shoe takes. I say, "And so she trudged up the wooden stairs, her sad brown shoes taking her to the house she never liked."
I like to tell stories. I am going to tell you a story about a girl who didn't want to belong.
We didn't always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, but what I remember most is Mango Street, sad red house, the house I belong but do not belong to.
I put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much. I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes. She does not hold me with both arms. She sets me free.

It's the birthday of the woman who inspired this verse by W.B. Yeats: "Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, / Enwrought with golden and silver light, / The blue and the dim and the dark cloths / Of night and light and the half light, / I would spread the cloths under your feet: / But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

That's Maud Gonne whom W.B. Yeats (books by this author) was addressing; she was born in Surrey, England, on this day in 1865, just six months after Yeats was born in Dublin. They first met when they were each 25 years old. Yeats later referred to the day he met her as "when the troubling of my life began."

She was an Irish revolutionary, independent-minded, graceful, and reared in affluence. She was tall, red-headed, and exquisitely beautiful. In his Memoirs, Yeats wrote: "I had never thought to see in a living woman such great beauty. It belonged to famous pictures, to poetry, to some legendary past. A complexion like the blossom of apples, and yet face and body had the beauty of lineaments which Blake calls the highest beauty because it changes least from youth to age, and a stature so great that she seemed of a divine race." She wore long black dresses and she kept singing birds as pets.

He asked her to marry him over and over again. She refused, over and over again. She once told him: "You would not be happy with me. ... You make beautifully poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry."

In a letter to him in 1911, she wrote, "Our children were your poems of which I was the father sowing the unrest & storm which made them possible & you the mother who brought them forth in suffering & in the highest beauty."

Yeats wrote about her:
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

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

 









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