Dec. 23, 2005

People Like Us

by Robert Bly

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Poem: "People Like Us" by Robert Bly from Morning Poems. © Harper Collins. Reprinted with permission.

People Like Us

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can't remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and
Who love God but can't remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It's
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he's lonely , and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul
And greatness has a defender, and even in death
     you're safe

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of author Norman Maclean, born in Clarinda, Iowa (1902) and raised in Missoula, Montana. He wrote the autobiographical novella A River Runs Through It (1976).

It was on this day in 1823 that the famous poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" was first published. It begins, "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."

Fourteen years after its first publication, an editor attributed the poem to a wealthy professor of classical literature named Clement Clarke Moore. In the last few years, new evidence has come out that a Revolutionary War major named Henry Livingston Jr. may have been the actual author of "The Night Before Christmas." His family has letters describing his recitation of the poem before it was originally published, and literary scholars have found many similarities between his work and "The Night Before Christmas." He was also three quarters Dutch, and many of the details in the poem, including names of the reindeer, have Dutch origins.

It's the birthday of novelist Donna Tartt, born in Greenwood, Mississippi (1963). She went to the writing program at Bennington College, and it was there that she began to work on her first novel The Secret History, about a group of intellectual college students who form a secret murderous cult. It sold more than five million copies when it came out in 1992. Tartt was just twenty-eight years old. The book earned her near-instant celebrity, so Tartt received a lot of press about the ten-year delay in the release of her second novel, The Little Friend (2002), about a little girl trying to solve the mystery of her older brother's death.

It's the birthday of one of the great champions of poetry, Harriet Monroe, born in Chicago (1860). She was a well-known poet and lecturer on poetry at the turn of the 20th century. Then in 1911, she took a trip around the world, and it was on that trip that she conceived of the idea for a literary magazine devoted entirely to poetry, which would be open to new names and new styles.

The result was Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, first published in 1912. Monroe produced the magazine with foreign editor Ezra Pound, and her magazine was one of the first to publish such writers as Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Sherwood Anderson, Rupert Brooke, Robert Frost, D. H. Lawrence, and William Carlos Williams. It was Monroe who first published T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

Harriet Monroe didn't live long enough to see what has become of her magazine. But she once said: "The people must grant a hearing to the best poets they have, else they will never have better."

It's the birthday of the poet Robert Bly born in Madison, Minnesota (1926). He served in the Navy during WWII, and then entered Harvard University, where, he later said, "One day while studying a Yeats poem I decided to write poetry the rest of my life."

Bly is the author of more than 30 books of his own poetry, including Silence In The Snowy Fields (1962) and The Light Around The Body (1967.)

Robert Bly, who said, "I know a lot of men who are healthier at age fifty than they have ever been before, because a lot of their fear is gone... "By the time a man is 35 he knows that the images of the right man, the tough man, the true man which he received in high school do not work in life."

Bly also wrote, "Being a poet in the United States has meant for me years of confusion, blundering, and self-doubt. The confusion lies in not knowing whether I am writing in the American language or the English or, more exactly, how much of the musical power of Chaucer, Marvell, and Keats can be kept in free verse. Not knowing how to live, or even how to make a living, results in blunders. And the self-doubt comes from living in small towns."

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