Apr. 16, 2004

The Widow's Lament in Springtime

by William Carlos Williams

a song in the front yard

by Gwendolyn Brooks

FRIDAY, 16 APRIL, 2004
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Poem: "a song in the front yard," by Gwendolyn Brooks, from Selected Poems (Harper Collins); and "The Widow's Lament in Springtime," by William Carlos Williams , from The Collected Poems 1909-1939 (New Directions).

a song in the front yard

I've stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it's rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it's fine
How they don't have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George'll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it's fine. Honest, I do.
And I'd like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.

The Widow's Lament in Springtime

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirtyfive years
I lived with my husband.
The plumtree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turn away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Kingsley Amis, born in London (1922). His novels include That Uncertain Feeling (1955), The Anti-Death League (1966) and The Old Devils (1986).

He became friends with the poet Philip Larkin at Oxford, and began writing poetry and short stories. He served in Belgium and West Germany during World War II, and then taught college English for several years. In 1954 he came out with his first novel, Lucky Jim, about Jim Dixon, a medieval history professor at a small university. Jim hates teaching, but at the same time he realizes that it's probably the only real job he's qualified for. After Lucky Jim came out, many people grouped Amis with the "Angry Young Men," young British writers of the 1950s who wrote about working-class people frustrated by the class system in England.

Amis was a socialist as a young man, but as he grew older his politics gradually drifted to the right. In 1967, he surprised everyone when he came out in support of America's war in Vietnam. He said, "I am driven into grudging toleration of the Conservative Party because it is the party of non-politics, of resistance to politics. . . . Many of the evils of life—failure, loneliness, fear, boredom, inability to communicate--are ineradicable by political means. . . . All you can reasonably hope for is keeping things going."

It's the birthday of playwright John Millington Synge, born in Rathfarnham, just south of Dublin, Ireland (1871). He was often sick as a child, and so instead of playing sports he spent his free time roaming around the hills and valleys near his home. He joined the Dublin Naturalist's Field Club when he was fifteen, and spent the next two years gathering insects and plants and looking at them under a microscope.

He spent seven years in Paris, writing literary criticism for magazines and newspapers. Then, in 1896, he met the poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats told him that instead of trying to work his way into literary circles in Paris, he should go to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland and write about the Irish-speaking peasants who live there. Yeats told him to "live there as if you were one of the people themselves. Express a life that has never found expression."

So, in 1898, Synge went the Aran Islands, and he spent the next four summers there. He explored the craggy, barren landscape, took notes on the Irish language, and wrote down the folktales of the islanders. In 1907, he published an account of his time there, and the material he gathered formed the basis for his two most successful plays, Riders to the Sea (1903) and The Playboy of the Western World (1907).

It's the birthday of writer Anatole France, born in Paris (1844). He wrote poems, plays, essays, short stories, and more than twenty novels, including At the Sign of the Queen Pedauque (1893), Penguin Island (1908) and The Gods Are Athirst (1912).

He grew up in an apartment above his father's bookstore, where he would roam through the stacks of books as a child. He fell in love with reading at a young age, and almost all of his jobs were related to books: he worked as a bookseller, a cataloguer, a publisher's assistant, an editor and a librarian, writing poetry and fiction on the side. His first big success came in 1881 with the novel The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, a satire set in eighteenth-century France. He went on to become one of the most successful novelists in France, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921.

France said, "When a thing has been said and said well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it."

And he said, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread."

And, "Lovers who love truly do not write down their happiness."

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




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