Feb. 16, 2004

The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog

by Robert Bly

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Poem: "The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog," by Robert Bly, from Eating the Honey of Words (Perennial).

The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog

I never intended to have this life, believe me—
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can't explain.

It's good if you can accept your life—you'll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten.
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind.
Even your parents can't believe how much you've changed.

Sparrows in winter, if you've ever held one, all feathers,
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee.
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you,

But you can't quite get back to the winter sparrow.
Your life is a dog. He's been hungry for miles,
Doesn't particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is President's Day. George Washington was born on February 11 according to the old-style calendar and February 22 according to the calendar we use today. In 1968, an act of legislation was passed that made the third Monday of February the official day to celebrate Washington's birthday. Since Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, President's Day has become a day on which we honor his birthday as well as George Washington's.

It's the birthday of novelist Richard Ford, born in Jackson, Mississippi (1944). He's best known as the author of the novels The Sportswriter (1985) and Independence Day (1995). He has said that one of the reasons he became a writer is that he was mildly dyslexic as a child and had to concentrate on words more intensely than most people. He also lived across the street from novelist and short story writer Eudora Welty, and his mother used to point her out to him as someone to look up to.

After his father had a heart attack, Ford went to live with his grandparents, who managed a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. He went to college to study hotel management, but when he got there he realized what he really wanted to do was read literature, and he switched his major to English. After college, he taught for a year, tried to join the Arkansas State Police, and spent a semester at law school. In 1968, he moved to New York City, got married, and decided on a whim to try to become a writer. He said he wanted to do something different, and "being a writer just seemed like a good idea. It was just casting off into the dark."

Ford's first novel, A Piece of My Heart, came out in 1976. He followed that up with The Ultimate Good Luck (1981). The two books together sold fewer than 12,000 copies, and Ford started thinking that maybe he wasn't cut out for writing novels. He quit writing fiction and got a job as a sportswriter for Inside Sports magazine, covering baseball and college football. He liked his new job and would have kept at it if the magazine hadn't have folded the following year. He didn't have anything else to do, so he started writing a novel about a fiction writer who becomes a sportswriter after the death of his son. The Sportswriter was published as in 1986, and it was huge critical and popular success. He wrote in The Sportswriter, "I had written all I was going to write, if the truth had been known, and there is nothing wrong with that. If more writers knew that, the world would be saved a lot of bad books, and more people—men and women alike—could go on to happier, more productive lives."

Ford's 1995 novel Independence Day picks up where The Sportswriter left off, with the sportswriter now a realtor trying to connect with his wife and his teenage son. After Ford finished writing it, he read aloud the whole 700-page manuscript, twice. Just before it was going to be published, his editor mentioned offhand that there were quite a few verbs that ended in "-ly". Ford agreed, and spent two weeks going back through the novel to change all the "-ly" verbs he could. All of his work paid off: Independence Day won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995.

Ford said, "If loneliness is the disease, the story is the cure."

It's the birthday of critic and biographer Van Wyck Brooks, born in Plainfield, New Jersey (1886). His early twentieth century biographies of American writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman helped to create a sense of history in American literature.

Brooks said, "The American mind, unlike the English, is not formed by books, but by newspapers and the Bible."

It's the birthday of historian and philosopher Henry Adams, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1838). He was the grandson of John Quincy Adams and the great-grandson of John Adams, and wrote several books on American history, including the nine-volume History of the United States of America During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (1889-91). He's best known for his dark and pessimistic autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1918). He said he felt more at home in seventeenth and eighteenth century America than he did in twentieth century America. He wrote that most Americans he had encountered "had no time for thought; they saw, and could see, nothing beyond their day's work; their attitude to the universe outside them was that of the deep-sea fish."

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