May 28, 2003

All that time

by May Swenson

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Poem: "All That Time," May Swenson from Nature, Poems Old and New (Houghton Mifflin Company).

All That Time

I saw two trees embracing.
One leaned on the other
as if to throw her down.
But she was the upright one.
Since their twin youth, maybe she
had been pulling him toward her
all that time,

and finally almost uprooted him.
He was the thin, dry, insecure one,
the most wind-warped, you could see.
And where their tops tangled
it looked like he was crying
on her shoulder.
On the other hand, maybe he

had been trying to weaken her,
break her, or at least
make her bend
over backwards for him
just a little bit.
And all that time
she was standing up to him

the best she could.
She was the most stubborn,
the straightest one, that's a fact.
But he had been willing
to change himself--
even if it was for the worse--
all that time.

At the top they looked like one
tree, where they were embracing.
It was plain they'd be
always together.

Too late now to part.
When the wind blew, you could hear
them rubbing on each other.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Maeve Binchy, born in Dalkey, Ireland (1940). She's the author of novels such as Firefly Summer (1987) and Circle of Friends (1990).

It's the birthday of poet May Swenson, born in Logan, Utah (1919). Her parents were both Swedish and came to the United States as converts to Mormonism. She was brought up Mormon, but she gave it up when she was thirteen, and became the black sheep of the family. As a young woman, she decided she never wanted to get married, moved to Greenwich Village, and supported herself as a secretary. She said it was a great job because it allowed her to pursue her own writing on the boss's time, as well as on his stationery inserted into his typewriter. She wrote one of her few short stories about secretarial work, called "Mutterings of a Middlewoman" (1955). She went on to write many collections of poetry, such as Poems to Solve (1966) and In Other Words (1988).

It's the birthday of Australian novelist Patrick White, born in London, England while his parents were there on a visit in 1912. He grew up in Australia at a time when Australians still considered the United Kingdom their home. He traveled widely and wrote novels set in London and the United States, but he got the most attention for his novels about pioneers in Australia like The Tree of Man (1955) and Voss (1957). He said that the subject of these novels was "the great Australian emptiness, in which the mind of man is the least of possessions." In 1973 he became the first Australian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It's the birthday of the man who invented the character James Bond, novelist Ian (Lancaster) Fleming, born in London, England (1908). As a young man, he worked for the Reuters news agency as a Moscow correspondent. During World War II, he served in the British Naval Intelligence. During his service, he once spotted a group of German agents at a casino, and devised a plan to take all their money in a game of baccarat. He lost, but later wrote a fictionalized version of the story in his first James Bond novel Casino Royale (1954). He started writing stories about James Bond while vacationing in Jamaica. He loved bird watching, and named James Bond after the author of Birds of the West Indies, which was one of his favorite books. The James Bond books were incredibly popular, though they often got terrible reviews. He said, "My books have no social significance, except a deleterious one; they're considered to have too much violence and too much sex. But all history has that."

It's the birthday of romantic poet Thomas Moore, born in Dublin, Ireland (1779). His greatest work was a ten-volume collection called Irish Melodies, and the first edition was published in 1808. Many of the poems were set to music, and they are still sung by the Irish today.

It's the birthday of novelist Walker Percy, born in Birmingham, Alabama (1916). Even though he liked writing, he studied chemistry in college and became a doctor at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He thought that he would take advantage of New York's theaters and museums, but he found that he spent all of his spare time going to movies. He had to quit his job when he caught tuberculosis while performing autopsies on derelicts who had died of chronic diseases. He spent two years at a sanitarium in the Adirondacks, and read many of the existentialist philosophers who were popular at the time, including Camus, Sartre, Heidegger, and especially Kierkegaard. When he got out he converted to Catholicism and decided to become a writer. Percy moved back to the south and wrote two novels, which he said were awful, and when he was forty-five years old, he published his masterpiece, The Moviegoer (1961). The novel surprised everyone by winning the National Book Award.

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