Oct. 15, 2002

The courage that my mother had

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The courage my mother had," by Edna St. Vincent Millay from Collected Poems (Harper Collins).

The courage that my mother had

The courage that my mother had
Went with her, and is with her still:
Rock from New England quarried;
Now granite in a granite hill.

The golden brooch my mother wore
She left behind for me to wear;
I have no thing I treasure more:
Yet, it is something I could spare.

Oh, if instead she'd left to me
The thing she took into the grave!-
That courage like a rock, which she
Has no more need of, and I have.

It's the birthday of Italo Calvino, born in Cuba (1923). He's the finest Italian novelist of the twentieth century.

It's the birthday of historian Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Jr., born in Columbus, Ohio (1917).

It's the birthday of C[harles] P[ercy] Snow, born in Leicester, England (1904). He was trained as a physicist, and wrote a series of novels called Strangers and Brothers. He also published a short book in 1959 called The Two Cultures, in which he observed that scientists and humanities scholars could barely speak to each other anymore. "I felt I was moving among two groups - comparable in intelligence, identical in race, not grossly different in social origin, earning about the same incomes, who had almost ceased to communicate at all," he wrote.

It's the birthday of Sir P(elham) G(renville) Wodehouse, born in Surrey (1881). He's remembered for his novels about the feckless young aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. Wodehouse wrote ninety novels, and co-wrote and provided the lyrics for two or three dozen musical shows. He said that he made his novels "like musical comedies without the music, ignoring real life completely."

It's the birthday of Friedrich Nietzsche, born in Saxony (1844). He wrote Beyond Good and Evil (1886), and Ecce Homo (1888). He wrote that the German words for "good" and "evil" had come into use when society was still divided into masters, who were aggressive and wilful, and slaves, who could survive only by being humble and subservient. He accused religion-all religions, it didn't make any difference which-of rooking slaves into believing that self-seeking behavior like their masters' would be punished in the next world, and submissive behavior like theirs would be rewarded. He wrote, "I regard Christianity as the most fatal and seductive lie that has ever yet existed - as the greatest and most impious lie ... I decline to enter into any compromise or false position in reference to it - I urge people to declare open war with it."

It's the birthday of Helen Hunt Jackson, born in Amherst, Massachusetts (1830), where she went to school with Emily Dickinson. She had a steady career as a ladies' author, but when she heard Chief Standing Bear of the Poncas give a speech about the destruction of his people, she became an activist overnight. She wrote a novel called Ramona (1884) about a half-breed Spanish woman and her Indian lover. It was a great success, but not in the way Jackson intended. People who read the book didn't care much about the Indian characters; they were attracted to the rich Spaniards, and they eagerly attached Ramona's name to the boulevards and opera houses in their new communities.

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
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show