Jun. 13, 2006


by Richard Wilbur

TUESDAY, 13 JUNE, 2006
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Parable" by Richard Wilbur from Collected Poems 1943-2004. © Harcourt, Inc. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


I read how Quixote in his random ride
Came to a crossing once, and lest he lose
The purity of chance, would not decide

Whither to fare, but wished his horse to choose.
For glory lay wherever he might turn.
His head was light with pride, his horse's shoes

Were heavy, and he headed for the barn.

Literary and Historical Notes:

We don't know the day on which Alexander the Great was born, but historians believe that he died on this day in the city of Babylon (323 B.C.). He was one of the most influential conquerors in the history of Western Europe, and by the time he died, at about the age of thirty-three, his kingdom spanned across Europe and Asia, from Greece to Egypt, Turkey and Afghanistan. He probably died of malaria, collapsing after a banquet.

It's the birthday of the poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, (books by this author), born in Dublin, Ireland (1865). His father was a well-known painter, and he split his childhood between the beautiful countryside of County Sligo, in the west of Ireland, and the bustling city life of London. He said, "Because I had found it hard to attend to anything less interesting than my thoughts, I was difficult to teach."

He grew up in a Protestant family, so he should have been pro-British, but around 1889, he became an advocate for Irish nationalism after he met Maud Gonne, a beautiful actress who had become an activist and who spoke out for Irish nationalism and independence. She became the love of his life, and though she refused his proposal of marriage, she believed that they were spiritually married, that they could communicate telepathically, and that they had been brother and sister in a past life. She inspired him to use his writing as a force for national unity.

Yeats spent years writing plays about Irish nationalism for Maud Gonne to star in. But by 1910, Maud Gonne had married someone else and Yeats had given up on trying to win her love. He continued to consult with mediums and to experiment with automatic writing and séances for the rest of his life, but he gave up on the idea of writing poetry for the collective soul of Ireland, and wrote instead for himself. He said, "We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." Many critics consider his greatest poems those that he wrote after he gave up on Irish nationalism, collected in books such as The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1933).

William Butler Yeats wrote, "Now that my ladder's gone / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart."

It's the birthday of British writer Dorothy Leigh Sayers, born in Oxford in 1893. She's best known as the creator of the amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who appeared in eleven mystery novels and twenty-one short stories and said, "Once you've got the How, the Why drives it home."

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show