Apr. 3, 2003

Just Now

by W. S. Merwin

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

Just Now

In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks


Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of nature writer John Burroughs, born near Roxbury, New York (1837). He published his first collection of nature writings, Wake Robin, in 1871. Among his most well known works are Birds and Poets (1877), Locusts and Wild Honey (1879), Signs and Seasons (1886), and Ways of Nature (1905). As a young man he'd tried his hand at many things: at botany, medicine, school teaching and office work at the Treasury in Washington, D.C., where he came under the influence of Walt Whitman. The poet urged Burroughs to leave his office job and write full time. Burroughs moved to the Catskill Mountains in New York State, and maintained a successful writing career for decades. He published hundreds of articles on birds, flowers, and natural wonders of all sorts -- his 27 books sold over two million copies -- and was the most famous nature writer of the day. In 1899, Burroughs joined a host of luminaries, including fellow naturalist John Muir, conservationist Theodore Roosevelt and painter Luis Agassiz Fuertes, on a scientific expedition along the Alaska coast led by scientist Edward Harriman. Together, they wrote about their trip in a private souvenir album called The Harriman Alaska Expedition: Chronicles and Souvenirs May to August 1899.

It's the birthday of the poet George Herbert, born in Montgomery Castle, Wales (1593). As a young man, he became a public orator for Cambridge and he spent most of his time writing official poetry in Latin for state occasions. He was on a path to become a prominent public figure, but within two years he underwent an internal spiritual struggle, and he decided to leave public life. He became the rector of a small, decaying church in Bemerton, near Salisbury, where his parishioners loved him. He is remembered now for a single collection of poems, which he sent to a friend on his deathbed, asking him to publish them if they were good, and burn them if they weren't.

It's the birthday of the writer Washington Irving, born in New York City (1783). He is known as the "first American man of letters" and is best known for the short stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." He spent most of his time working with his brother and a friend on editing a literary journal called Salmagundi. In an essay he wrote for it, he referred to New York City as "the renowned and ancient city of Gotham." As far as anyone knows, this was the first time the word "Gotham" had been used to describe the city. He published a comedic history of the Dutch in New York called A History of New York under the name "Dietrich Knickerbocker," who was supposed to be an eccentric and bitter Dutch-American scholar. The name Knickerbocker was later used to identify the first American school of writers, the Knickerbocker Group, of which Irving was a leading figure. The book became part of New York folklore, and eventually the word Knickerbocker was also used to describe any New Yorker who could trace their family to the original Dutch settlers.

It's the birthday of the publisher Henry R. Luce, born in the Shantung province of China (1898). He was born to a Presbyterian missionary family, and his first decade was spent in China. In March of 1923, he and fellow classmate Briton Hadden founded the weekly magazine, Time. Luce went on to found Fortune magazine in 1930, Life magazine in 1936, and Sports Illustrated in 1954.

It's the birthday of the American novelist Leon Uris, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1924). He began writing in the early 1950s, inspired by his four-year tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. His first novel, Battle Cry (1953), was written to show the realistic lives of soldiers fighting on the front lines. He also wrote Exodus (1958), which deals with the struggle to establish and defend the state of Israel.


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