Sep. 23, 2003

Love Poem

by Linda Pastan

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "love poem," by Linda Pastan, from The Imperfect Paradise (W.W. Norton).

love poem

I want to write you
a love poem as headlong
as our creek
after thaw
when we stand
on its dangerous
banks and watch it carry
with it every twig
every dry leaf and branch
in its path
every scruple
when we see it
so swollen
with runoff
that even as we watch
we must grab
each other
and step back
we must grab each
other or
get our shoes
soaked we must
grab each other

Literary Notes:

It's the day we celebrate the birthday of the tragic Greek poet Euripides, who tradition says was born on the day the Greeks defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, in 480 BC. He probably wrote 92 plays that ancient people knew of, but only nineteen of them survive. In his time, he was known as a reclusive man who spent much of his time sitting and writing in a cave that overlooked the Saronic Gulf. In 1997, archaeologists discovered what they believed to be that very cave. Inside it they found a clay pot from the late fifth century BC inscribed with the first six letters of Euripides' name. The pot was about 300 years older than the inscription, so they assumed it was written by one of Euripides' fans who had visited the place where he did his writing. Euripides' tragedy Medea (431 BC) is about a princess who lives happily with her husband Jason and their two sons until Jason sends Medea away and decides to marry the Princess of Corinth. Medea murders both the Corinthian princess and her own sons, and escapes in the chariot of her grandfather, the sun god Helios, leaving Jason to grow old alone. Euripides said, "When good men die their goodness does not perish, / But lives though they are gone. As for the bad, / All that was theirs dies and is buried with them."

It's the birthday of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus, born in 63 BC. Julius Caesar was his great-uncle and mentor, and Augustus was eighteen and away as a student when Julius Caesar was assassinated. When Augustus returned to Italy, he was told that Caesar had adopted him as his son in his will and had made him his chief heir. Against the wishes of his stepfather, he went to Rome to claim his inheritance. At first Mark Antony refused to surrender Caesar's property, but Augustus won over many of Caesar's troops. Later, when the Roman world was divided between Augustus and Antony, Augustus declared war against Cleopatra, Antony's lover and military partner. Cleopatra's naval forces were defeated at Actium, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, and Augustus returned to Rome and proclaimed universal peace.

On this day in 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned from their westward expedition after over two years and 8,000 miles. Most people had given them up for dead, and when they came into St. Louis on the Mississippi River, the whole town crowded along the shore to greet them with cheers, gunfire salutes, and ringing bells. Their report of what they discovered filled Americans with excitement about the West, and launched a flood of expansion across the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.

It's the birthday of William Holmes McGuffey, born near Claysville, Pennsylvania (1800). He wrote his series of Peerless Pioneer Readers (1836), or "McGuffey's Readers," as they were called, for isolated pioneer families and the children of immigrants who couldn't speak English. They became standard texts in almost every state for fifty years, and sold over 125 million copies. McGuffey only made a thousand dollars for the whole series.

It's the birthday of singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen, born in Freehold, New Jersey (1949). He grew up in New Jersey, and he writes about it in his songs. He said, "Music was my way of keeping people from looking through and around me. I wanted the heavies to know I was around." In 1984 his song "Born in the U.S.A." was at the top of the charts, and President Reagan asked Springsteen to appear at one of his campaign rallies in New Jersey. Springsteen declined, but Reagan used "Born in the U.S.A." anyway, even though the lyrics that Springsteen wrote were about working-class defeat. His home county of Monmouth lost more people in the World Trade Center than any other in New Jersey. He read the New York Times obituaries, and saw how many times one of his songs was played at a memorial service, how many of the articles mentioned that the deceased loved his music. Jim Berger's headline read "FAN OF THE BOSS," so Springsteen decided to call his widow, Suzanne, to talk about Jim's life. Stacey Farrelly's husband Joe was a firefighter with Manhattan Engine Co. 4 and his obituary said that he was a fan, so Springsteen called Stacey, too. She said, "I got through Joe's memorial and a good month and a half on that phone call." Less than a year later he released his album The Rising (2002), which was largely a response to the attacks. He said, "When you're putting yourself into shoes you haven't worn, you have to be very ... thoughtful ... You call on your craft, and you go searching for it, and hopefully what makes people listen is that over the years you've been serious and honest." In a series of concerts in New Jersey this summer Springsteen sold 550,000 tickets—more than anyone else, ever. Later this month he'll publish his book Songs, a collection of his lyrics and some chapters by Springsteen about his life.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show