Feb. 3, 2003


by W. S. Merwin

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Poem: "Monologue," by W.S. Merwin from The Pupil (Alfred A. Knopf).


as we say
meaning it literally
and you do

hear it when
we speak
for the voice addressing you
is your own

though we know now
that the you
we are speaking to
is not the person
we imagine
yet we go on telling you

day after day of the person
we imagine
ourselves to be

forgetting as we tell you
learning even from joy
but forgetting
and you hear

who is speaking
you hear it all
though you do not listen

On this day in 1943, the Four Chaplains died aboard the U.S.S. Dorchester. The ship was ferrying United States troops; it was struck by a German torpedo in the middle of the night. Many soldiers were killed in the blast, but those who survived headed instinctively to the deck, where they discovered there weren't enough extra life jackets to go around. The ship's four chaplains calmed the men, distributed all the life jackets they could find, and then, without any discussion, took their own life jackets off and gave them to four more men. The ship sank in twenty-seven minutes, and the last thing the men in the water saw was the four chaplains on deck with their arms around each other.

It's the birthday of Simone Weil born in Paris, France (1909). She's the author of Waiting for God (1951) and Gravity and Grace (1952). She was a mystical, religious writer though a Socialist. She seemed to feel the pain of others' poverty just as if it were her own; friends were disconcerted by her fervor. During the French occupation her Jewish family took her to the United States. She was hospitalized with tuberculosis, and she refused to eat more than she thought the average French person was getting on wartime rations. She died soon afterward; her death was ruled a suicide. She wrote, "A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough…Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams."

It's the birthday of James Michener, born in New York City (1907). During World War Two he traveled the South Pacific, listening to the stories of the people who lived there, and he started writing a book about them after everyone else went to bed. He had no paper; he typed Tales of the South Pacific on the backs of envelopes and letters he'd received from home, keeping track of the pages with a complicated numbering system. He handed the pile of stationery and envelopes to Random House without retyping it; they published it in 1947, and it won a Pulitzer. When Rodgers and Hammerstein made it into the musical "South Pacific," Michener made his fortune, and quit his job. He sold seventy-five million books during his life, and gave away almost all the money he earned; he said he didn't need it.

It's the birthday of Norman Rockwell, born in New York City (1894). He tried imitating Cubism for a while, but couldn't sell the paintings, and he turned back to illustration. He painted covers for The Saturday Evening Post for almost fifty years.

It's the birthday of writer, friend of writers, and collector of paintings, Gertrude Stein, born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (1874).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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