Jul. 2, 2002


by Donald Hall

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Poem: "Affirmation," by Donald Hall from The Painted Bed (Houghton Mifflin Company).


To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love caries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

It's the birthday of Wislawa Szymborska, born in Poland (1923). When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, few people outside of Poland had ever heard of her. Her first poems were published in the Krakov newspaper, and for almost twenty years she edited a weekly column for the journal Literary Life, for which she also wrote scores of book reviews, as well as translations of French poetry. Her early poems dealt with the horrors of World War Two, and of the Stalin era. When she accepted the Nobel Prize, she said, "They say the first sentence in any speech is always the hardest. Well, that one's behind me, anyway."

It's the birthday of Hermann Hesse, born on this day in Calw, near the Black Forest (1877). When he graduated from secondary school, he apprenticed himself to a book publisher, settled down and began to write consistently. Although not much read now, his second novel, Peter Camenzind (1903), was so successful that the royalties allowed him to write full-time. He spent most of his career in Switzerland, and published Steppenwolf (1927) and the rest of his best-known novels there.

It's the birthday of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, born in Nottinghamshire (1489). He brought Protestant ideas into the Church of England, commissioned a translation of the Bible into English, and, most memorably, compiled the Church of England's first prayer-book, the Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer had to choose lines that would continue to sound natural as the vicar repeated them, week after week. He tried to use words that sounded old-fashioned even for his time, and he substituted simple Anglo-Saxon and Norman French words for fancy, Latin-derived terms wherever he could. English writers have been listening to the Book of Common Prayer for generations.

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