Feb. 24, 2003

The Parade

by Billy Collins

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Parade," by Billy Collins from Nine Horses (Random House).

The Parade

How exhilarating it was to march
along the great boulevards
in the sunflash of trumpets
and under all the waving flags--
the flag of desire, the flag of ambition.

So many of us streaming along--
all of humanity, really--
moving in perfect sync,
yet each lost in the room of a private dream.

How stimulating the scenery of the world,
the rows of roadside trees,
the huge blue sheet of the sky.

How endless it seemed until we veered
off the broad turnpike
into a pasture of high grass,
heading toward the dizzying cliffs of mortality.

Generation after generation,
we shoulder forward
under the play of clouds
until we high-step off the sharp lip into space.

So I should not have to remind you
that little time is given here
to rest on a wayside bench,
to stop and bend to the wildflowers,
or to study a bird on a branch--

not when the young
keep shoving from behind,
not when the old are tugging us forward,
pulling on our arms with all their feeble strength.

It's the birthday of writer August (William) Derleth, born in Sauk City, Wisconsin (1909). He wrote novels about his hometown, which he called "Sac Prairie."

It's the birthday of educator and writer Mary Ellen Chase, born in Blue Hill, Maine (1887). She wrote novels about people living along the coast of Maine and taught at Smith College for almost thirty years, influencing students including Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Sylvia Plath, and Betty Friedan.

It's the birthday of a man considered by many to be the greatest player ever in the history of baseball, Honus Wagner (John Peter Wagner), known as "The Flying Dutchman," born in Carnegie, Pennsylvania (1874). He played shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

It's the birthday of educator and entomologist John Henry Comstock, born in Janesville, Wisconsin (1849). His studies of scale insects and butterflies provided the basis for systematic classification of these insects.

It's the birthday of painter Winslow Homer, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1836). As a young man, Homer apprenticed to a lithographer and then began contributing illustrations to the popular magazine, Harper's Weekly. During the Civil War, he was sent to the battlefront as a correspondent for the magazine. Unlike most other artists of the time, he drew representations of everyday camp life, rather than dramatic battle scenes. In his later years, Homer moved to the coast of Maine, where he produced many paintings of the sea and of fishermen and their families.

It's the birthday of folklorist Wilhelm Karl Grimm, born in Hanau, Germany (1786), famous -- with his brother Jacob -- for Children's and Household Tales (1812), eventually known as Grimm's Fairy Tales (1857). Among the best known stories are "Hansel and Gretel," "Cinderella," "Rumpelstiltskin," and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." The Grimm brothers wrote down most of the tales from oral narrations, collecting the materials mainly from German peasants. Wilhelm, the more sociable and amiable of the two brothers, selected and arranged the stories, while Jacob was the more scholarly of the two. Wilhelm continually reshaped the tales through their many editions, removing some of the violence, such as the end of "Snow White" where the wicked queen was originally forced to don red-hot slippers and dance until she dies. He also edited out sexual references in the story of Rapunzel and the prince who climbs up into her tower.

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