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Nov. 29, 2014

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Not Yet

by Jane Hirshfield

Morning of buttered toast;
of coffee, sweetened, with milk.

Out the window,
snow-spruces step from their cobwebs.
Flurry of chickadees, feeding then gone.
A single cardinal stipples an empty branch—
one maple leaf lifted back.

I turn my blessings like photographs into the light;
over my shoulder the god of Not-Yet looks on:

Not-yet-dead, not-yet-lost, not-yet-taken.
Not-yet-shattered, not-yet-sectioned,
not-yet-strewn.


Ample litany, sparing nothing I hate or love,
not-yet-silenced, not-yet-fractured; not-yet-

Not-yet-not.

I move my ear a little closer to that humming figure,
I ask him only to stay.

"Not Yet" by Jane Hirshfield from The Lives of the Heart. © Harper Collins, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Amos Bronson Alcott (1799) (books by this author), born in Wolcott, Connecticut, and also the birthday of his daughter, Louisa May Alcott (1832) (books by this author), born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The father was a transcendentalist philosopher, abolitionist, and teacher; the daughter was the author of many books, most notably Little Women (1868). Bronson Alcott was full of dreams and schemes, an idealist who founded a commune called Fruitlands and became a vegan before the term even existed. Fruitlands failed miserably, and Alcott got by on loans from others, including his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, but the Alcotts were often without money. At 15, Louisa vowed: "I will do something by and by. Don't care what, teach, sew, act, write, anything to help the family; and I'll be rich and famous and happy before I die, see if I won't! [...] I'll make a battering-ram of my head and make my way through this rough-and-tumble world."

Louisa May Alcott started writing poems and submitting them to periodicals. She also published Hospital Sketches (1863), which was based on her experiences as an Army nurse in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War. Her first literary success came with the semi-autobiographical Little Women, and the money she made provided her father with his first taste of financial security. She never favored the domestic, value-laden type of writing that made her famous. What she really loved was writing lurid Gothic romances, a fondness that traced back to her childhood acting out stories with her sisters; she wrote three of the thrillers under the pen name "A.M. Barnard." Two were published in her lifetime; the third — A Long Fatal Love Chase — was written in 1866, but was rejected as being too sensational. It was finally published in 1995.

Bronson Alcott died on March 4, 1888; a few days earlier, bedridden, he had told his visiting daughter Louisa, "I am going up. Come with me." She replied, "I wish I could." As it turned out, she followed him just two days later, dying of a stroke at age 55.

It's the birthday of novelist Madeleine L'Engle (books by this author), born in New York City (1918). She worked for a while as an actress, and she was performing in the play The Cherry Orchard when she met her husband, the actor Hugh Franklin. She published a novel, The Small Rain (1945), and decided to give up acting and focus on writing and raising her kids. But while she was in her 30s, her career as a writer was going so badly that she considered giving up.

Then she read a book that made her change her mind. She said, "I read a book of Einstein's, in which he said that anyone who's not lost in rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe is as good as a burnt-out candle." She was so fascinated by Einstein's thinking that she kept reading about theoretical physics, and ended up writing a science fiction novel for young adults based on those ideas. L'Engle's three children loved the book, but it was rejected by 26 publishers; many thought it was too hard for children, and others thought that a science fiction novel shouldn't have a female as a main character. So L'Engle gave up on the book.

That year, her mother visited for Christmas, and L'Engle hosted a tea party for her mother's old friends. One of those friends was in a writing group with John Farrar of the publishing house Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux. They didn't publish young adult fiction, but the woman insisted that L'Engle meet Farrar and at least show him the manuscript. He published L'Engle's novel, A Wrinkle in Time (1963). It won the Newbery Medal; during her acceptance speech, she said: "I can't possibly tell you how I came to write it. It was simply a book I had to write. I had no choice. And it was only after it was written that I realized what some of it meant." A Wrinkle in Time has sold more than 10 million copies.

Her other books include A Circle of Quiet (1972), A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978), and A Ring of Endless Light (1980).

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