Sunday

Nov. 4, 2012

Twilight: After Haying

by Jane Kenyon

Yes, long shadows go out
from the bales; and yes, the soul
must part from the body:
what else could it do?

The men sprawl near the baler,
reluctant to leave the field.
They talk and smoke,
and the tips of their cigarettes
blaze like small roses
in the night air. (It arrived
and settled among them
before they were aware.)

The moon comes
to count the bales,
and the dispossessed —
Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will
— sings from the dusty stubble.

These things happen...the soul's bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses....

The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird;
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew.

"Twilight: After Haying" by Jane Kenyon, from The Boat of Quiet Hours. © Graywolf Press, 1986. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of humorist Will Rogers (books by this author), born near Claremore, Oklahoma (1879). He was the last of eight children, the son of a successful rancher. He never graduated from high school and, at an early age, began performing in rodeo shows, specializing in roping tricks. His father tried to settle him down by enrolling him in a military academy, but he ran away and hopped a boat to South America. From there he took off to Africa, where he began performing in something called "Texas Jack's Wild West Show." He toured with various circuses in New Zealand and Australia until he finally found his way back to the United States, where he performed in vaudeville shows in New York City.

Rogers went on to become the original king of all media. In his lifetime, he was a Broadway showman, Hollywood actor, traveling public speaker, radio commentator, and newspaper columnist. His column was syndicated in almost 400 papers; it was the most widely read column of its day.

Will Rogers said: "When I die, my epitaph is going to read: 'I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn't like.'"

It was on this day in 1918 that British war poet Wilfred Owen (books by this author) was killed in World War I, at the age of 25. In the days before his death, Owen had been excited because he knew the war was almost over. The Germans were retreating and the French had joyfully welcomed the British troops. In his last letter to his mother Owens wrote: "It is a great life. I am more oblivious than yourself, dear Mother, of the ghastly glimmering of the guns outside, and the hollow crashing of the shells. Of this I am certain: you could not be visited by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here." A few days later, he was trying to get his men across a canal in the early morning hours when they were attacked by enemy fire, and Owen was fatally wounded. The war ended the following week.

It's the birthday of the poet C.K. Williams (books by this author), born in Newark, New Jersey (1936). His two greatest passions in high school were girls and basketball. He was a good basketball player, 6 feet 5 inches, and he was recruited to play in college. But then he wrote a poem for a girl he was trying to impress, and she was actually impressed, and so he decided he should be a poet instead. He dropped out of college to move to Paris because that's where he thought a poet ought to live. He didn't write at all while he was there, but he did realize that he didn't know anything and should probably go back to college. He said: "It was an incredibly important time. Not much happened and yet my life began then. I discovered the limits of loneliness." He went back and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and started publishing books of poetry, books like Tar (1983), Flesh and Blood (1987), and The Singing (2003), which won the National Book Award.

It's the birthday of the novelist Charles Frazier (books by this author), born in Asheville, North Carolina (1950). He grew up in a rural area of North Carolina, near Cold Mountain, where his family has lived for more than 200 years. Frazier's father had been researching the family history, and one day he told Frazier that one of their ancestors, Frazier's great-great uncle, was a Confederate soldier who had deserted the Confederate army and walked more than 250 miles to his home near Cold Mountain. Suddenly, Frazier realized that he could use all his research to write a novel loosely based on his ancestor's journey home from the war.

He took a sabbatical from his teaching job that stretched from two into seven years. Still, he was resigned to the fact that he might never publish the book. He had never shared it with anyone but his wife and his daughter, and he didn't care if anyone ever read it as long as he was personally satisfied with the result. But while he was working on the 15th draft, his wife smuggled 100 pages of it to the local novelist Kaye Gibbons, who was in their carpool group, and Kaye Gibbons was blown away. She sent the novel to an agent, and it was picked up immediately by the Atlantic Monthly Press.

The first printing of Frazier's novel Cold Mountain (1998) was just 25,000 copies. It sold out within a week of publication. The book went on to sell almost 2 million copies, and it won the National Book Award.

His newest novel, Nightwoods (2012), is set in the Appalachian Mountains of the 20th century.

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

 









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