Sep. 17, 2003

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Poem: "Waiting," by William Carlos Williams, from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams (New Directions).


When I am alone I am happy.
The air is cool. The sky is
flecked and splashed and wound
with color. The crimson phalloi
of the sassafras leaves
hang crowded before me
in shoals on the heavy branches.
When I reach my doorstep
I am greeted by
the happy shrieks of my children
and my heart sinks.
I am crushed.

Are not my children as dear to me
as falling leaves or
must one become stupid
to grow older?
It seems much as if Sorrow
had tripped up my heels.
Let us see, let us see!
What did I plan to say to her
when it should happen to me
as it has happened now?

Literary Notes:

On this day in 1787, Benjamin Franklin presented the newly written Constitution of the United States of America to a group of politicians in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The hall was filled with representatives from every existing state, except Rhode Island. George Washington presided over the convention. Franklin was growing old and was too weak to read the document himself, so it was read for him. It began with the Preamble, drafted by Gouverneur Morris: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." Two hundred and ten years later, in 1997, Constitution Day was created, and the annual recitation of this Preamble has become a way to celebrate the work of the men at the convention.

It's the birthday of Ken Kesey, born in La Junta, Colorado (1935). He's best known as the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962). He went to Stanford University, where he studied creative writing. He volunteered in a local hospital to observe patients of drug addiction, particularly LSD. He eventually decided to use the drug himself, and went off on a bus tour around the country with a group of misfits who called themselves "The Merry Pranksters."

It's the birthday of doctor and poet William Carlos Williams, born in Rutherford, New Jersey (1883). He studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his M.D. and became friends with the poet Ezra Pound. Williams eventually broke with literary celebrities like Pound and T.S. Eliot. He didn't like their obscure and complicated European style. Williams committed himself to writing poetry in the rhythms and patterns of common American speech. He wrote clear, precise poetry that was often inspired by his work as a doctor. He said, "When they ask me . . . how I have for so many years continued an equal interest in medicine and the poem, I reply that they amount for me to nearly the same thing." He wrote many essays, and a large five-volume work called Paterson (1946-1958), about his experience in the New Jersey city where he practiced medicine. But he is best known for his shorter poems like "Red Wheelbarrow." One night, Williams came home hungry and exhausted from treating a patient all day. He found some plums in his freezer, ate them, and left this poem for his wife:

This is Just to Say:
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.
William Carlos Williams said, "The goal of writing is to keep a beleaguered line of understanding which has movement from breaking down and becoming a hole into which we sink decoratively to rest."

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