Sep. 30, 2005

In Time

by W. S. Merwin

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Poem: "In Time" by W.S. Merwin, from The Pupil. © Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2001. Reprinted with permission.

In Time

The night the world was going to end
when we heard those explosions not far away
and the loudspeakers telling us
about the vast fires on the backwater
consuming undisclosed remnants
and warning us over and over
to stay indoors and make no signals
you stood at the open window
the light of one candle back in the room
we put on high boots to be ready
for wherever me might have to go
and we got out the oysters and sat
at the small table feeding them
to each other first with the fork
then from our mouths to each other
until there were none and we stood up
and started to dance without music
slowly we danced around and around
in circles and after a while we hummed
when the world was about to end
all those years all those nights ago

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in Mainz, Germany in 1452. It was the first book ever printed with movable type. What made Gutenberg's invention revolutionary was not that it allowed you to print letters on paper, but that you could print an infinite number of different pages from a small number of letter blocks simply by rearranging them.

The first section of the Bible came out on this day. He printed 180 copies on expensive Italian paper. It was designed to be used for public reading in the dining halls of monasteries. But within three decades there were print shops all over Europe, and Gutenberg's invention launched a revolution in education.

Today about four dozen copies of the Gutenberg Bible survive. One of the most recent copies to come on the market was auctioned in New York in 1987 and sold for more than $5 million.

It's the anniversary of the first edition printing of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women in 1868. It's a children's book written by a woman who did not much care for children's books or for children. She preferred to write dark, sensational stories with diabolical heroines.

It's the birthday of the mystery writer Michael Innes, who was born John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, in Edinburgh (1906). He went to school at Oxford, sailed off to Australia to get a teaching job. On the boat, he began writing a mystery just to pass the time, and the book was published that year, Death at the President's Lodge.

He wrote many mysteries, known for their complicated plots and many scholarly allusions.

It's the birthday of Truman Capote, born in New Orleans (1924). He was the son of a salesman and a beauty queen. He moved to New York City with his mother, went to Trinity School, dropped out when he was 17, and began working for the New Yorker magazine. His first book came out in 1948, Other Voices, Other Rooms.

It was Truman Capote who said, "All literature is gossip." He also said, "Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does or music. If you were born knowing them, fine. It not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself."

It's the birthday of the poet W.S. Merwin, born in New York City (1927). He's the son of a Presbyterian minister. He went to Princeton University where he met the poet John Berryman, then a graduate student. Merwin asked Berryman how to know if your poems were any good. Berryman said, "You can't. You can never be sure. You die without knowing." Merwin later included those lines in a poem.

He's a prolific author and translator who lives in Hawaii in a house built on an old pineapple farm where he's planted many species of palms.

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




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