Aug. 9, 2003

Cut Grass

by Philip Larkin

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Cut Grass," by Philip Larkin from High Windows (Faber and 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:

On this day in 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden; or, Life in the Woods. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson said he saw a "tremble of great expectation" in Thoreau just before publication day. Thoreau's previous book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) sold less than 300 copies. On the day he got his 706 unsold copies back from the publisher, he wrote in his diary: "I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself…" Walden didn't do much better. It took five years to sell off the first edition of 2,000 copies, and Thoreau did not live to see a second edition. Thoreau tried to arrange a nation-wide lecture tour, but only one city made an offer, and so Thoreau kept his lectures to the Concord area. Since then, millions of copies of Walden have been sold.

On this day in 378 A.D., the Romans were defeated by the Visigoths at the Battle of Adrianople. It was a victory of barbarian horsemen over Roman infantry, and one of the most decisive battles in history. In what is now Turkey, two-thirds of the Roman army-40,000 men by some accounts-including Emperor Valens himself, were overrun and slaughtered by the mounted barbarians. The stage was set for the fall of the Roman empire.

It's the birthday of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland (1896). He dedicated his life to the question of how a child learns. He wore rumpled suits, and he spent long hours on his hands and knees, playing marbles with children. He followed a strict schedule, waking up every morning at 4 a.m. and writing at least four publishable pages in small, neat handwriting. His major works include The Language and Thought of the Child (1923) and The Origins of Intelligence in Children (1948).

It's the birthday of the creator of Mary Poppins, P. L. (Pamela Lyndon) Travers, born in Mayborough, Queensland, Australia (1899).

It's the birthday of English poet Philip Larkin, born in Coventry, England (1922). During his life he was called "England's other Poet Laureate," and when the position became vacant in 1984, many poets and critics wanted Larkin to be appointed. His books of poetry include The Less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), and High Windows (1974). In college at Oxford, Larkin met Kingsley Amis and the two writers became best friends, a relationship that would last their whole lives. They shared a love of jazz and wrote hundreds of letters to each other, often with funny cartoons. To support himself, he worked as a professional librarian for more than forty years, writing in his spare time. Larkin was also a jazz critic for the London Daily Telegraph, and his reviews were reprinted in All What Jazz; A Record Diary 1961-1968 (1970). He said, "Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth." And he said, "I think writing about unhappiness is probably the source of my popularity, if I have any. After all, most people are unhappy, don't you think?"

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