Thursday

Jul. 17, 2014

Evening Walk

by Charles Simic

You give the appearance of listening
To my thoughts, O trees,
Bent over the road I am walking
On a late summer evening
When every one of you is a steep staircase
The night is slowly descending.

The high leaves like my mother's lips
Forever trembling, unable to decide,
For there's a bit of wind,
And it's like hearing voices,
Or a mouth full of muffled laughter,
A huge dark mouth we can all fit in
Suddenly covered by a hand.

Everything quiet. Light
Of some other evening strolling ahead,
Long-ago evening of silk dresses,
Bare feet, hair unpinned and falling.
Happy heart, what heavy steps you take
As you follow after them in the shadows.

The sky at the road's end cloudless and blue.
The night birds like children
Who won't come to dinner.
Lost children in the darkening woods.

"Evening Walk" by Charles Simic, from The Voice at 3:00 A.M.. © Harcourt, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of fiction writer Shmuel Yosef Agnon (books by this author), who wrote under S.Y. Agnon, born in Galicia in what is now Ukraine (1888). He spoke Yiddish at home, and read Hebrew and German.

When he was 20 years old, he moved to what is now Israel, and he started publishing stories. He moved back to Germany for a few years, where a prosperous Jewish businessman named Salman Schocken took Agnon under his wing and gave him a monthly stipend so that he could devote himself to writing full-time. Agnon's books include Hakhnasat Kalah (The Bridal Canopy, 1922), Oreach Nata Lalun (A Guest for the Night, 1939), and Shevuat Emunim (Two Tales, 1943). He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1966.

At a big party for his 70th birthday attended by several hundred people, he gave a speech and said: "I did not recount great things and wonders about myself. Who more than I knows of my impoverishment? I say this not from false modesty, but from my own opinion — that an author who believes he has great things to tell about himself misappropriates his mission. The individual to whom God gave an author's pen must write of the acts of God and his wonders with human beings."

It's the birthday of the great church composer Isaac Watts, born in Southampton, England (1674). He wrote more than 600 hymns, including "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and "Joy to the World."

It's the birthday of editor Ernest Percival Rhys (books by this author), born in London (1859). He worked as a mining engineer, and he set up a makeshift library with his own books and led book discussions for the coal miners. Then a publisher got him confused with a scholar named John Rhys and approached him about editing a series of books called Camelot Classics. Ernest Rhys turned out to be a good editor, and he moved on from Camelot Classics to work for the publishing house J.M. Dent and Company. Dent and Rhys conceived of a series of inexpensive works of classic literature, 1,000 titles in all. Rhys came up with the name: "Everyman's Library," from the medieval morality play Everyman. In the play, the character Knowledge says to Everyman: "Everyman, I will go with thee / and be thy guide, / In thy most need to go / by thy side." When Rhys died in 1946, 952 volumes of the Everyman's Library had been published.

It's the birthday of Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaître, born in Charleroi, Belgium, on this day in 1894. He proposed the big-bang theory, maintaining that the universe originated with a gigantic explosion of what he called a small super-atom, and that the universe is constantly expanding.

It's the birthday of detective novelist Erle Stanley Gardner (books by this author), born in Malden, Massachusetts (1889). He earned money through high school by participating in illegal boxing matches. He went on to Valparaiso University to study law, but after only a month, he got kicked out for boxing. So he studied law on his own, and he passed the California bar exam when he was 21. He went to his swearing-in ceremony after a boxing match, and said that he was probably the only attorney in the state to be sworn in with two black eyes.

He liked working as a lawyer, but it wasn't enough to keep him busy, so he started writing detective fiction for pulp magazines. In 1933, he published The Case of the Velvet Claws, his first novel featuring detective and defense attorney Perry Mason, who always pulled through and won cases for the underdogs. Gardner wrote more than 80 Perry Mason novels, and his books have sold more than 300 million copies.

He said: "I still have vivid recollections of putting in day after day of trying a case in front of a jury, which is one of the most exhausting activities I know about, dashing up to the law library after court had adjourned to spend three or four hours looking up law points with which I could trap my adversary the next day, then going home, grabbing a glass of milk with an egg in it, dashing upstairs to my study, ripping the cover off my typewriter, noticing it was 11:30 p.m. and settling down with grim determination to get a plot for a story. Along about 3 in the morning I would have completed my daily stint of a 4,000-word minimum and would crawl into bed."

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

 









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