Thursday

Jun. 6, 2013

Watering Trough

by Maxine Kumin

Let the end of all bathtubs
be this putting out to pasture
of four Victorian bowlegs
anchored in grasses.

Let all longnecked browsers
come drink from the shallows
while faucets grow rusty
and porcelain yellows.

Where once our nude forebears
soaped up in this vessel
come, cows, and come, horses.
Bring burdock and thistle,

come slaver the scum of
timothy and clover
on the cast-iron lip that
our grandsires climbed over

and let there be always
green water for sipping
that muzzles may enter thoughtful
and rise dripping.

"Watering Trough" by Maxine Kumin, from Selected Poems. © Norton, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Maxine Kumin (books by this author), born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1925). She grew up in an affluent family — her father owned the largest pawnbroking business in the city. Even though she was Jewish, her parents sent her to a Catholic school because it was so close to her house. She said, "Jesus entered my life casually but insistently and some of that sanctified passion has stayed in my bones."

She wrote poetry in secret from the time she was a child, and when she was a student at Radcliffe, she finally got the courage up to show her poems to a professor. The professor handed back comments on her poetry that read: "Say it with flowers, but for God's sake don't try to write poems." She didn't, for a long time, until she got serious about it again in her 30s, in the middle of her third pregnancy. She said, "The grit of discontent, the acute misery of early and uninformed motherhood worked under my skin to force out the writer."

Kumin is now the author of many poetry collections, including Up Country (1973), which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was published on this date in 1949 (books by this author). Nineteen Eighty-Four begins with this famous line: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." Orwell wrote most of the novel on the island of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides; grieving the loss of his wife and overwhelmed with all the demands on his time that arose from the success of Animal Farm (1945), he retreated there with his son. The weather was bad, and so he stayed inside and wrote. He kept on with the book even as he became more and more ill with tuberculosis. He died in 1950, less than a year after the book was published.

Orwell said: On the whole, human beings want to be good — but not too good, and not quite all the time.

It's the birthday of the father of modern Russian literature: Aleksandr Pushkin (books by this author), born in Moscow (1799). He died at the age of 38, but in his brief life, he worked in nearly every literary form. His masterpiece was the verse novel Eugene Onegin (1833), about a man who kills his friend in a duel, and loses the one woman he loves.

Pushkin married Natalya Goncharova, who was described at the time as the most beautiful woman in Russia. She had many admirers, including Czar Nicholas. One of her suitors was so persistent that Pushkin finally challenged him to a pistol duel in 1837. Pushkin died two days later.

People still bring flowers to the field by the Black River where he was killed in the duel. In every Russian town, there is a street or a square or a school named after him. He's become a kind of mythical figure. It's common for parents say to their children, "Who do you think is going to close that door after you? Pushkin?"

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

 









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