Tuesday

Oct. 14, 2014

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

"66" by E.E. Cummings, from Complete Poems. © Grove Press, 1994. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet E.E. Cummings (books by this author), born Edward Estlin Cummings in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894). His father was a Harvard professor, and Cummings grew up in a privileged and happy household — he said, "As it was my miraculous fortune to have a true father and a true mother, and a home which the truth of their love made joyous, so — in reaching outward from this love and this joy — I was marvelously lucky to touch and seize a rising and striving world." At times he rebelled against the strict Christian morality and academic world of his parents. He wrote in one early poem: "the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls / are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds." He said, "I led a double life, getting drunk and feeling up girls but lying about this to my Father and taking his money all the time."

He graduated from Harvard, enlisted in the Ambulance Corps, and then moved to Greenwich Village to write poetry. His Harvard friend John Dos Passos used his influence to find a publisher for Cummings's first book of poems, Tulips and Chimneys (1923). Cummings complained that the editor cut the manuscript down from 152 poems to 66, and took out the ampersand in the title to write out the word "and." One critic said that his poems were "hideous on the page," and another corrected all his punctuation when she quoted him. He continued to publish books, but 12 years after his first collection of poems had come out, Cummings was still unable to find a publisher for his newest manuscript. He ended up self-publishing it with financial help from his mother — he titled it No Thanks (1935) and dedicated it to the 14 publishing houses who had rejected the book.

Slowly, his fame grew. His Collected Poems (1938) was a big success, but his six-month royalty checks were small — one for $14.94, another for $9.75. His mother still gave him a monthly check to help pay his living expenses. He started giving poetry readings, and by the last decade of his life, Cummings was a celebrity. His poetry readings were hugely popular, sold-out events — he packed venues from college campuses to theaters. He charmed his audiences — reading energetically, lingering on individual words, striding around the stage as he spoke, and timing his readings to the second. In 1957, he read to a crowd of 7,000 in Boston. During a reading at Bennington College in Vermont, the huge crowd of students greeted him by reciting his poem about Buffalo Bill en masse. The crowds were so enthusiastic that Cummings had to establish what he called "rules of engagement": he refused to autograph books or attend dinners or other social functions. He sometimes sneaked out after readings by what he called a "secretbackentrance." Young women came up to him on the streets of New York to give him bouquets of flowers, or left them on the doorstep of his Greenwich Village apartment. By the time of his death in 1962, he was the second most widely read poet in America, after Robert Frost.

In 1066 on this day, William the Conqueror defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings. In September of that year, William, Duke of Normandy, left France with 600 ships and up to 10,000 men. He disembarked at Pevensey, in Sussex, and moved along the coast to Hastings. Meanwhile, in the north of England, Harold II was fighting off his brother and an army of Vikings. When he heard of William's invasion, he hurried his bedraggled army south, to a ridge about 10 miles northeast of Hastings.

William sent his army to attack, archers in front, infantrymen behind, and knights in the rear. Although the Normans suffered many early casualties, they feigned retreat twice, luring the Englishmen from their positions. They then turned and annihilated them. When Harold was killed, the leaderless army fought on for a while, then scattered. The victorious Normans moved on to London, where William I was crowned king on December 25.

It's the birthday of the 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, born in Denison, Texas (1890). He grew up in a poor family that was very religious. His mother was a pacifist. When her son chose to go to West Point for college, she broke down in tears. He took a position training soldiers after he graduated in 1915. He wanted to go overseas to fight in World War I, but it ended a week before he was scheduled to go to Europe. He wrote a guidebook of World War I battlefields, but was then stationed in the Philippines.

He finally got back to the United States in 1939, and he was stationed at a base in Louisiana where he supervised the largest military games ever carried out in this country, a simulation designed to help prepare for a land war in Europe. Eisenhower planned the strategy for the invading army, and the following December, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was put in charge of the strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe.

It's the birthday of the short-story writer Katherine Mansfield (books by this author), born in Wellington, New Zealand (1888). She was the daughter of a successful businessman who sent her away to school in England. At 18, her parents brought her back to New Zealand, and she found that she no longer had anything in common with her family.

She became one of the wildest bohemians in New Zealand. She had affairs with men and women, lived with the Maori, and published scandalous stories. She moved back to London and was part of the bohemian scene there. At one point, she married a man she barely knew and left him before the wedding night was over because she couldn't stand the pink bedspread.

She didn't begin to write the stories that made her famous until her younger brother came to see her in 1915. They had long talks, reminiscing about growing up in New Zealand. He left that fall for World War I and was killed two months later. She was devastated by his death, and she wrote a series of short stories about her childhood, including "The Garden Party," which many critics consider to be her masterpiece.

She said, "Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare fiddle?"

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 »