Dec. 15, 2002

The Planet on the Table

by Wallace Stevens

A Clear Day and No Memories

by Wallace Stevens

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Poem: "A Clear Day and No Memories," and "The Planet on the Table," by Wallace Stevens from Collected Poems (Knopf).

A Clear Day and No Memories

No soldiers in the scenery,
No thoughts of people now dead,
As they were fifty years ago,
Young and living in a live air,
Young and walking in the sunshine,
Bending in blue dresses to touch something,
Today the mind is not part of the weather.

Today the air is clear of everything.
It has no knowledge except of nothingness
And it flows over us without meanings,
As if none of us had ever been here before
And are not now: in this shallow spectacle,
This invisible activity, this sense.

The Planet on the Table

Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.

It's the birthday of Irish novelist Edna O'Brien, born in Twamgraney, County Clare, Ireland (1936). She grew up on a farm near a small village in the west of Ireland. There were about two hundred people in the village, and everybody knew everyone else's business. She said: "I had sort of a limitless access to everyone's life story. For a writer, it's a marvelous chance." She was brought up in a convent and her family was opposed to anything having to do with literature. When she was a student in Dublin her mother found a Sean O'Casey book in her suitcase and threatened to burn it. But she was still inspired to write, especially after reading James Joyce. Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), was banned in Ireland because of its graphic sexual scenes. She said, "It's important when writing to feel free, answerable to no one. The minute you feel you are answerable, you're throttled. You can't do it." She also wrote House of Splendid Isolation and moved from Ireland to England, though her homeland always remained vivid in her memory and in her fiction.

It's the birthday of playwright Maxwell Anderson, born in Atlantic, Pennsylvania (1888). His dream was to write plays that would bring tragic poetry to the American stage. He tried, with White Desert, but he failed. Then Laurence Stallings approached him about collaborating on a comic play about World War One. The play, What Price Glory? (1924), launched Anderson's career on the stage. This allowed him to again try writing verse plays including Elizabeth the Queen (1930) and Winterset (1935).

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