Jul. 20, 2003

Cut Grass

by Philip Larkin

SUNDAY, 20 JULY 2003
(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Cut Grass," by Philip Larkin from Collected Poems (Faber & Faber).

Cut Grass

Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death

It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June
With chestnut flowers,
With hedges snowlike strewn,

White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne's lace,
And that high-builded cloud
Moving at summer's pace.

Literary Notes:

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong became the first men to set foot on the moon on this day in 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first to walk on the moon, because he was closest to the door of the tiny lunar module, which had landed in an area known as the Sea of Tranquility. When his feet touched the ground Neil Armstrong spoke the famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." He claims that he said "That's one small step for a man" but the transmission cut out during the "a." Buzz Aldrin called for a moment of silence shortly after the landing to give thanks for their survival. He took communion with a wafer and a tiny chalice of wine. When the crew took off their helmets after climbing back into the Eagle spaceship, they told the NASA people back in Houston that something smelled like "wet ashes in a fireplace" or "spent gunpowder." It was the smell of moondust.

It's the birthday of novelist Thomas Berger, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1924). He first gained attention in 1958, with the novel Crazy in Berlin. He is best known for his 1964 novel, Little Big Man, which was made into a film starring Dustin Hoffman. It tells the story of the Old West through the eyes of Jack Crabbe, a fictional 111-year-old survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn.

It's the birthday of American novelist Cormac McCarthy, born Charles McCarthy, Jr. in Providence, Rhode Island (1933). His parents named him Charles, but he changed his name to Cormac, probably after the Irish king who built Blarney Castle. Cormac also means "son of Charles" in Gaelic. He has written several highly acclaimed novels, most notably All the Pretty Horses (1992) and Blood Meridian (1985). His early books were set in eastern Tennessee, and his recent books have been Westerns. He writes about bloody crimes and cold-hearted men, and says his stories don't have any moral lessons. McCarthy left the University of Tennessee after only two years to join the Air Force. He was stationed in Alaska, and he got a job there hosting a radio show. He came back to college after four years in the service, but he never finished his degree. He did win the school's creative writing award, twice. He also found a wife there, and they moved to Chicago together. He became a mechanic and wrote The Orchard Keeper (1965), his first book. He received the MacArthur "Genius Grant," and lived off the money while he wrote. He has never considered himself part of a literary community. He spent eight years living in an old dairy barn outside Knoxville, Tennessee. He got a call one day asking him to speak at a university for $2,000. He told them that everything he had to say was there on the page, and he hung up. His first Western novel was Blood Meridian (1985). It's about a fourteen-year-old boy who travels with a band of bounty hunters. They are paid by the Mexican government to collect Indian scalps, and they aren't picky about who they kill. It's been called "perhaps the bloodiest book ever penned by an American author." All the Pretty Horses (1992) was his first real commercial success. It was the first book in a series he called the Border Trilogy. The two books that followed were The Crossing (1994) and Cities of the Plain (1998). All the Pretty Horses is the story of a sixteen-year-old Texan named John Grady Cole who sets off on horseback for Mexico in the 1940s and encounters plenty of old fashioned Western romance and danger. When All the Pretty Horses made the bestseller list in 1992, McCarthy used the money to buy a new truck, and he kept writing. He cuts his own hair, eats off a hotplate, and washes his clothes at the Laundromat. He has said that you are either born a writer or you are not, and, "Teaching writing is a hustle." He said: "All courage is a form of constancy. It is always himself that a coward abandons first. After this all other betrayals come."

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