Sunday

Jan. 29, 2012

Going to Heaven

by Emily Dickinson

Going to heaven!
I don't know when,
Pray do not ask me how,--
Indeed, I'm too astonished
To think of answering you!
Going to heaven!--
How dim it sounds!
And yet it will be done
As sure as flocks go home at night
Unto the shepherd's arm!

Perhaps you're going too!
Who knows?
If you should get there first,
Save just a little place for me
Close to the two I lost!
The smallest "robe" will fit me,
And just a bit of "crown";
For you know we do not mind our dress
When we are going home.

I'm glad I don't believe it,
For it would stop my breath,
And I'd like to look a little more
At such a curious earth!
I am glad they did believe it
Whom I have never found
Since the mighty autumn afternoon
I left them in the ground.

"Going to Heaven" by Emily Dickinson. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Anton Chekhov (books by this author), born in Taganrog, Russia (1860). He was in medical school and took up writing as a way to support his family. He wrote sketches and stories, never spending more than a day on any story. Two years after he graduated, Chekhov got a letter from the critic Dmitry Grigorovich, telling him that he was the most gifted writer of his generation and should take his work more seriously. Chekhov responded: "Your letter struck me like lightning. I became very emotional upon opening it. I nearly cried. I understand now that if I have a gift, I should honor it, which I have not always done in the past."

The next year he published a collection of short stories, At Dusk (1887), and it won the Pushkin Prize, a huge literary award in Russia. That same year, he wrote his first play. As he earned more from his writing, he didn't give up his medical practice — instead, he treated more and more poor patients free of charge.

He said, "Any idiot can face a crisis — it's day to day living that wears you out."

It was on this day in 1845 that Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Raven" was published in the New York Evening Mirror (books by this author). It was a huge sensation: Abraham Lincoln memorized it, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a fan letter to Poe. He was paid $9 for "The Raven," and it was extensively reprinted without his permission, but there was nothing he could do about it. He had written an unsigned article for the Mirror before about copyright law, saying, "Without an international copyright law, American authors may as well cut their throats," but there was no such law until 1891. His income in 1844 was $424; in 1845, he made $549.

It's the birthday of writer and politician Thomas Paine (books by this author), born in Thetford, England (1737). He moved to Philadelphia in 1774. He was 37, an unsuccessful writer, and he became wildly successful in the colonies with his long essay Common Sense, in which he said, "The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind." The pamphlet sold more than 100,000 copies by the end of 1775, and the American Revolution began the next year.

It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Edward Abbey (books by this author), born in Indiana, Pennsylvania (1927). In 1944, he decided to hitch-hike cross-country, knowing that he might be drafted when he turned 18, and he fell in love with the West. He did get drafted, and spent a couple of years in Italy, then went to the University of New Mexico on the GI Bill. He worked as a seasonal ranger in national parks, and he published his first few novels including The Brave Cowboy (1956) which was made into a movie starring Kirk Douglas and Fire on the Mountain (1968).

Abbey was working as a school bus driver in Death Valley when he decided to write down an account of his time as a park ranger at Arches National Monument near Moab, Utah. It was published as Desert Solitaire (1968). Then in 1975, he published The Monkey Wrench Gang, the story of four irreverent, beer-drinking, gun-wielding, fun-loving characters who will do anything it takes to stop developers from coming in and destroying the West. The Monkey Wrench Gang was a best-seller, and its popularity made Desert Solitaire a best-seller, as well. Edward Abbey became famous as an environmentalist.

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 »