Jul. 10, 2005

Trees (excerpt)

by W. S. Merwin

SUNDAY, 10 JULY, 2005
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Poem: From "Trees" by W. S. Merwin, from The Compass Flower. © Macmillan Publishing Company. Reprinted with permission.


I am looking at trees
they may be one of the things I will miss
most from the earth
though many of the ones I have seen
already I cannot remember
and though I seldom embrace the ones I see
and have never been able to speak
with one
I listen to them tenderly
their names have never touched them
they have stood round my sleep
and when it was forbidden to climb them
they have carried me in their branches

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Marcel Proust, born in Paris (1871). He's the author of the great, 3,000 page autobiographical novel that we know as either Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time.

It's the birthday of the journalist and humorist Finley Peter Dunne, born in Chicago (1867). Dunne created a character for his column, Martin Dooley—an Irish barkeeper. Finley Peter Dunne said, "Trust everybody, but cut the cards."

It's the birthday of short story writer Alice Munro, born Alice Laidlaw in Wingham, Ontario (1931). She grew up on a farm in the poor part of town. Her father tried to make a living raising minks and foxes. She said, "We lived in this kind of ghetto where all the bootleggers and prostitutes and hangers-on lived ... a little town where nobody was interested in writing or the world of literature." She was though, and she loved to make up stories. She said, "You were never praised for the things you could do well. You were taught to pay attention to whatever you were bad at." Every day on the way to school she told herself a new story, though she never told them to anybody else.

She ran away to go to college, University of Western Ontario, and studied journalism. She dropped out after a couple of years, got married, and had children. She became a housewife in the suburbs, a life which she did not care for. She said, "So many things were forbidden, like taking anything seriously." She was trying to write fiction, but her schedule was very tightly managed. She couldn't find time to do it, though she did try to get her kids to nap a lot.

She was in her 30s when she and her husband opened a bookstore. That, she said, made her feel as if she had a function in the real world. She locked herself in the bookstore on Sundays to write, and after nearly 20 years of struggle, she published her first collection of stories, Dance of The Happy Shades in 1968.

Her marriage broke up. She took a trip back to her home town to care for her aging father. She was only going to stay for a year, but she found that the landscape she had hated so much as a child suddenly seemed like the most interesting place in the world. She said, "People's lives in [my home town] were dull, simple, amazing, unfathomable—deep caves paved with linoleum. It did not occur to me [as a child] that one day I would be so greedy for [my hometown] ... to want every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together—radiant, everlasting."

Returning to her hometown gave her the material that she needed, and she's gone on writing about ordinary people in small town Canada ever since. Munro is the author of Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You, The Moons of Jupiter, Open Secrets, and many other books.

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




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