Sep. 24, 2006

A Morning In Autumn

by W. S. Merwin

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Poem: "A Morning In Autumn" by W.S. Merwin from Migration: New and Selected Poems. © Copper Canyon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Morning In Autumn

Here late into September
I can sit with the windows
of the stone room swung open
to the plum branches still green
above the two fields bare now
fresh-plowed under the walnuts
and watch the screen of ash trees
and the river below them

and listen to the hawk's cry
over the misted valley
beyond the shoulder of woods
and to lambs in a pasture
on the slope and a chaffinch
somewhere down in the sloe hedge
and silence from the village
behind me and from the years

and can hear the light rain come
the note of each drop playing
into the stone by the sill
I come slowly to hearing
then all at once too quickly
for surprise I hear something
and think I remember it
and will know it afterward

in a few days I will be
a year older one more year
a year farther and nearer
and with no sound from there on
mute as the native country
that was never there again
now I hear walnuts falling
in the country I came to

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald, (books by this author) born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). He was born in a rented apartment on Laurel Avenue in St. Paul, down the street from Summit Avenue, where the richest citizens of the city lived. His mother came from a well-to-do family, but his father was the proprietor of a wicker furniture business that never made a whole lot of money. Fitzgerald grew up feeling self-conscious about his family's social status.

His father's wicker furniture business eventually failed, and the family had to move to Buffalo, New York, where Fitzgerald's father sold soap for Procter and Gamble. Then, one day, Fitzgerald saw his mother answer the telephone, and he knew by watching her face that something terrible had happened. He later wrote, "My mother, a little while before, had given me a quarter to go swimming. I gave the money back to her. ... I thought she could not spare the money now." It turned out that his father had lost his job, and the family had to move back to St. Paul, to live with his wealthy grandmother. Fitzgerald started writing when he got back to St. Paul, mainly as a way to keep from being bored during his classes. He said, "I wrote all through every class in school in the back of my geography book and first year Latin and on the margins of themes and declensions and mathematics problems."

He did so poorly in school that his parents sent him off to a Catholic boarding school on the East coast, but he didn't do well there. He might have gone on to the University of Minnesota, but just before his graduation from high school his grandmother died and left her fortune to his mother, which made it possible for Fitzgerald to go to Princeton. He had a vision of becoming a Princeton football star, but he weighed only 138 pounds and he was cut from the team on the first day. He found that he felt just as out of place at Princeton has he had always felt. He said, "That was always my experience—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy's school, a poor boy in a rich man's club at Princeton."

In 1914, Fitzgerald met a beautiful, rich 16-year-old girl named Ginevra King, and he fell madly in love with her. He followed her around at dances and parties, but she was unwilling to commit to dating just one man. One night, he overheard someone say that poor boys should not try to marry rich girls. A year later, Ginevra informed Fitzgerald that she was engaged. He later wrote in a letter to his daughter, "She was the first girl I ever loved ... [and] she ended up by throwing me over with the most supreme boredom and indifference."

So he wrote his first novel about her, while he awaited commission as an army officer. He called the novel The Romantic Egoist. It tells the story of young man named Amory Blaine who falls in love with a beautiful blond debutante named Rosalind Connage and then loses her because she doesn't want to marry someone with so little money. Fitzgerald eventually changed the title to This Side of Paradise. When it came out in 1920, it made Fitzgerald famous almost over night. He finally got to be rich, if only briefly. By the time the stock market crashed in 1929, Fitzgerald's marriage was falling apart and his books weren't selling anymore. He died in 1940 at the age of 44. That year, all of his books sold a total of 72 copies, with royalties of $13.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story."

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