Mar. 19, 2013
Here in the Time Between
Here in the time between snow
and the bud of the rhododendron,
we watch the robins, look into
the gray, and narrow our view
to the patches of wild grasses
coming green. The pile of ashes
in the fireplace, haphazard sticks
on the paths and gardens, leaves
tangled in the ivy and periwinkle
lie in wait against our will. This
drawing near of renewal, of stems
and blossoms, the hesitant return
of the anarchy of mud and seed
says not yet to the blood's crawl.
When the deer along the stream
look back at us, we know again
we have left them. We pull
a blanket over us when we sleep.
As if living in a prayer, we say
amen to the late arrival of red,
the stun of green, the muted yellow
at the end of every twig. We will
lift up our eyes unto the trees hoping
to discover a gnarled nest within
the branches' negative space. And
we will watch for a fox sparrow
rustling in the dead leaves underneath.
It was on this day in 1842 that Honoré de Balzac's play Les ressources de Quinola (books by this author) opened at the Odéon Theater in Paris. Balzac was a prolific novelist and playwright who drank 50 cups of coffee each day, which he said was like "sparks shooting all the way up to the brain." He was also a well-known literary celebrity, and for this play, he attempted a publicity stunt that totally failed. He started a rumor that tickets for the play were completely sold out, assuming that people would turn out en masse to see what all the excitement was about. Instead, assuming that they couldn't get tickets, no one came, and the theater was almost empty for opening night.
It's the birthday of novelist Philip Roth (books by this author), born in Newark, New Jersey (1933). His father was an insurance salesman, and both his parents were the children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. He majored in English and taught it, and he became friends with Saul Bellow, who told him that he was talented and should keep writing. In 1959, when he was 26 years old and teaching at the University of Chicago, he published his first book, a novella and short stories titled Goodbye, Columbus,and it won the National Book Award. He wrote two novels, which got mixed reviews, and then for five years he didn't publish anything at all, but lived in New York City and did a lot of analysis. Then he published Portnoy's Complaint (1969), which is entirely made up of a monologue delivered by a patient, Alexander Portnoy, to his analyst. It got rave reviews from critics, and its sexual content made it controversial and also extremely popular — it was the best-selling book of 1969.
It's the birthday of Russian writer Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (books by this author), born in Great Sorochintsy, Ukraine in 1809 (March 31st according to the Old Calendar). His mother was extremely devout, and his father was a bureaucrat who owned a vodka distillery on 3,000 acres and had more than 300 serfs working for him.
After graduating from school, he went off to St. Petersburg, ready to take on the world. First he tried acting, but he failed at his audition. So he wrote an idyllic poem glorifying Germany, and self-published it at his own expense. It got nasty reviews, and he was so ashamed that he bought all the copies, burned them, and decided never to write poetry again.
But eventually he tried writing prose, short stories rooted in the folklore and culture of rural Ukraine, and his first book, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (1831), was a big success. A few years later, he produced a comic play, The Government Inspector (1836). The satirical play mocked the ineptitude of the Russian bureaucracy, but it was extremely popular, and even Czar Nicholas loved it — he is reported to have said, "Everyone gets the business here. Me most of all."
Gogol produced several more books of short stories; his most famous stories include "The Nose," about a nose that takes off on its own, dressed in uniform and acting like any other human being; and "The Overcoat," which has been endlessly interpreted. Dostoevsky is rumored to have said, about himself and his contemporaries: "We all emerged from Gogol's overcoat."
But Gogol became a religious fanatic, the follower of a Russian Orthodox priest who convinced him that all art was sinful. He fasted so severely in his attempt to overcome the Devil that he destroyed his health, and the doctors tried to treat him with leeches, which only further weakened him, and he died at the age of 43.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®