Jan. 6, 2013

The Frogs After Dark

by Robert Bly

I am so much in love with mournful music
That I don't bother to look for violinists.
The aging peepers satisfy me for hours.

The ant moves on his tiny Sephardic feet.
The flute is always glad to repeat the same note.
The ocean rejoices in its dusky mansion.

Bears are often piled up close to each other.
In caves of bears, it's just one hump
After another, and there is no one to sort it out.

You and I have spent so many hours working.
We have paid dearly for the life we have.
It's all right if we do nothing tonight.

We've heard the fiddlers tuning their old fiddles,
And the singer urging the low notes to come.
We've heard her trying to keep the dawn from breaking.

There is some slowness in life that is right for us.
But we love to remember the way the soul leaps
Over and over into the lonely heavens.

"The Frogs After Dark" by Robert Bly, from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey. © Norton, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany. It celebrates the day when the three Magi visited Jesus and gave him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

James Joyce's famous short story "The Dead" is set at a party for the Feast of the Epiphany. The story ends: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." Joyce also gave us a secular meaning of "epiphany," using the word to mean the "revelation of the whatness of a thing," the moment when "the soul of the commonest object [...] seems to us radiant."

It's the birthday of Joan of Arc, who was born on this date in 1412. Her parents were peasants in the French town of Domrémy. She began seeing visions when she was 13, and believed that Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret were urging her to defend France against the English. France's Prince Charles provided the troops, and Joan cut off her hair, posing as a boy. She led the troops to victory, and she was at the prince's side when he was later crowned King Charles IV.

When she was 18, she went into battle again, but this time she was captured by allies to the English. She was put on trial for heresy, and she was denied legal counsel. Her prosecutors tried to trick her by asking her if she knew she was in God's grace. Because church doctrine said that no one could know that for certain, she couldn't answer yes without being guilty of heresy. She also couldn't answer no, because that would be taken as an admission of guilt. Joan avoided the trap by saying, "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me."

But she was found guilty, in part because of forged court documents and a confession that the illiterate Joan signed without reading. She was burned in the market square in Rouen in 1431, when she was 19.

It's the birthday of the man who called writing a "socially acceptable form of schizophrenia": E.L. Doctorow (books by this author), born in New York City (1931). He made a name for himself with his third novel, The Book of Daniel (1971). It won the National Book Award. Ragtime, which followed in 1975, was a best-seller and, he claimed, the easiest book he ever wrote.

His latest book is All the Time in the World: New and Selected Short Stories (2011).

Today is the birthday of Carl Sandburg (books by this author), born in Galesburg, Illinois (1878). Many people know him because of his poetry, or perhaps because of his six-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln. But years before he first published his poems, he traveled all over the United States, collecting folk songs — more than 300 in all — which he eventually published in The American Songbag (1927).

Sandburg wrote three collections of stories for children: Rootabaga Stories (1922), Rootabaga Pigeons (1923), and Potato Face (1930). Sandburg believed there was a need for truly American fairy tales, since castles and knights didn't have any relevance to American kids. So he wrote fables about the American Midwest, stories about corn fairies, and skyscrapers, and farms.

Education pioneer Maria Montessori opened her first school on this date in 1907. It was called Casa dei Bambini, or Children's House, and it was located in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Rome. Montessori had some revolutionary ideas about education. She didn't believe in traditional classrooms where "children, like butterflies mounted on pins, are fastened each to his place." She believed that the teacher should pay attention to the students and not the other way around. And she also believed that children were naturally interested in practical activities and liked to master tasks that they saw adults doing every day. So she made the furnishings child sized, and gave them "work": sweeping, helping prepare meals, washing up, and gardening. She gave them lots of hands-on activities and plenty of unstructured time for self-guided learning, and her experiment was a success.

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 »