Sunday

Jul. 17, 2011

227 Waverly Place

by W. S. Merwin

When I have left I imagine they will
repair the window onto the fire escape
that looks north up the avenue clear
to Columbus Circle long I have known
the lights of that valley at every hour
through that unwashed pane and have watched with no
conclusion its river flowing toward me
straight from the featureless distance coming
closer darkening swelling growing distinct
speeding up as it passed below me toward
the tunnel all that time through all that time
taking itself through its sound which became
part of my own before long the unrolling
rumble the iron solos and the sirens
all subsiding in the small hours to voices
echoing from the sidewalks a rustling
in the rushes along banks and the loose
glass vibrated like a remembering bee
as the north wind slipped under the winter sill
at the small table by the widow until
my right arm ached and stiffened and I pushed
the chair back against the bed and got up
and went out into the other room that was
filled with the east sky and the day replayed
from the windows and roofs of the Village
the room where friends came and we sat talking
and where we ate and lived together while
the blue paint flurried down from the ceiling
and we listened late with lights out to music
hearing the intercom from the hospital
across the avenue through the Mozart
Dr Kaplan wanted on the tenth floor
while reflected lights flowed backward on the walls.

"227 Waverly Place" by W.S. Merwin, from Migration: New and Selected Poems. © Copper Canyon Press, 2005 (buy now)

It's the birthday of editor Ernest Percival Rhys, born in London (1859). He worked as a mining engineer, and he set up a makeshift library with his own books and led book discussions for the coal miners. Then a publisher got him confused with a scholar named John Rhys and approached him about editing a series of books called Camelot Classics. Ernest Rhys turned out to be a good editor, and he moved on from Camelot Classics to work for the publishing house J.M. Dent and Company. Dent and Rhys conceived of a series of inexpensive works of classic literature, 1,000 titles in all. Rhys came up with the name: "Everyman's Library," from the medieval morality play Everyman. In the play, the character Knowledge says to Everyman: "Everyman, I will go with thee / and be thy guide, / In thy most need to go / by thy side." When Rhys died in 1946, 952 volumes of the Everyman's Library had been published.

It's the birthday of detective novelist Erle Stanley Gardner (books by this author), born in Malden, Massachusetts (1889). He earned money through high school by participating in illegal boxing matches. He went on to Valparaiso University to study law, but after only a month, he got kicked out for boxing. So he studied law on his own, and he passed the California bar exam when he was 21. He went to his swearing-in ceremony after a boxing match, and said that he was probably the only attorney in the state to be sworn in with two black eyes.

He liked working as a lawyer, but it wasn't enough to keep him busy, so he started writing detective fiction for pulp magazines. In 1933, he published The Case of the Velvet Claws, his first novel featuring detective and defense attorney Perry Mason, who always pulled through and won cases for the underdogs. Gardner wrote more than 80 Perry Mason novels, and his books have sold more than 300 million copies.

He said: "I still have vivid recollections of putting in day after day of trying a case in front of a jury, which is one of the most exhausting activities I know about, dashing up to the law library after court had adjourned to spend three or four hours looking up law points with which I could trap my adversary the next day, then going home, grabbing a glass of milk with an egg in it, dashing upstairs to my study, ripping the cover off my typewriter, noticing it was 11:30 p.m. and settling down with grim determination to get a plot for a story. Along about 3 in the morning I would have completed my daily stint of a 4,000-word minimum and would crawl into bed."

It's the birthday of fiction writer Shumel Yosef Agnon (books by this author), who wrote under S.Y. Agnon, born in Galicia in what is now Ukraine (1888). He spoke Yiddish at home, and read Hebrew and German.

When he was 20 years old, he moved to what is now Israel, and he started publishing stories. He moved back to Germany for a few years, where a prosperous Jewish businessman named Salman Schocken took Agnon under his wing and gave him a monthly stipend so that he could devote himself to writing full-time. Agnon's books include Hakhnasat Kalah (The Bridal Canopy, 1922), Oreach Nata Lalun (A Guest for the Night, 1939), and Shevuat Emunim (Two Tales, 1943). He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1966.

At a big party for his 70th birthday attended by several hundred people, he gave a speech and said: "I did not recount great things and wonders about myself. Who more than I knows of my impoverishment? I say this not from false modesty, but from my own opinion — that an author who believes he has great things to tell about himself misappropriates his mission. The individual to whom God gave an author's pen must write of the acts of God and his wonders with human beings.

It was on this day in 1936 that the Spanish Civil War began. It started with an attempted coup by right-wing forces, who called themselves Nationalists, against the government, or Republicans. General Franco was at the helm of the Nationalists, and the Spanish Civil War was the first major threat of fascism in Europe. Tens of thousands of international volunteers went to Spain to fight on the Republican side, including thousands from the United States.

Ernest Hemingway (books by this author) worked as a war correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War. In a dispatch from April of 1937, he wrote: "Loyalist shells were going overhead, sounding like down-curving serial subway trains with a boom at the end, but there was no Insurgent artillery fire. This filled your correspondent with inquietude. I remarked, 'Let's get out of this joint before they open up on it,' which remark coincided with the whishing, rush arrival of the first of six three-inch shells, which burst behind us, ahead and in the trees. We went forward on a path through trees covered with heavy green moss that surrounded the old royal hunting lodge, with shells bursting around us in the heavy woods. The only one that came with that authentic, personal, final rush of splitting air that you flatten to without choice or pride hit a big linden tree twenty yards away, and the splintered, new Spring sapped wood and steel fragments ripped out together."

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

 









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