Oct. 2, 2006

The Death of a Soldier

by Wallace Stevens

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Poem: "The Death of a Soldier" by Wallace Stevens from Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. © Alfred A Knopf. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Death of a Soldier

Life contracts and death is expected,
As in a season of autumn.
The soldier falls.

He does not become a three-days personage,
Imposing his separation,
Calling for pomp.

Death is absolute and without memorial,
As in a season of autumn,
When the wind stops,

When the wind stops and, over the heavens,
The clouds go, nevertheless,
In their direction.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Wallace Stevens, (books by this author) born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1879). Stevens was one of the few writers of the 20th century who not only took a job in corporate America but actually kept at it, even after he became a successful writer.

He worked for the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he was eventually promoted to vice president. He woke up early every day and read for a few hours and then composed his poems in his head while walking to and from work. In that way, he produced some of the most revolutionary and abstract poetry of the 20th century.

Almost no one at his office knew that he was a poet, even after he became famous in the literary world. He said, "I am sure that most people here in Hartford know nothing about the poetry and I am equally sure that I don't want them to know because once they know they don't seem to get over it."

Stevens wrote poems for most of his life, but he didn't publish his first book until he was 45 years old. His wife had discouraged him from publishing because he'd written poems for her when they first started dating, and she felt that his poems belonged to her and her alone. But after many years of keeping his work private, he decided that he wanted to know what the world thought of it, and so he went ahead and published his collection Harmonium (1923). The book received almost no attention, even though it eventually came to be seen as one of the most accomplished debuts in American literary history. It contained several poems that went on to become classics, such as "Sunday Morning," "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock," "Peter Quince at the Clavier," and "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

Wallace Stevens said, "Poetry is the subject of the poem."

It's the birthday of writer Graham Greene, (books by this author) born in Hertfordshire, England (1904). He was the son a school headmaster, and was a very shy child who often tried to run away from home. After several suicide attempts in his teens, his therapist encouraged him to start writing and introduced him to several of his literary friends.

He traveled extensively all over the world, and spent a good part of his life in Vietnam, and that experience gave him the material for one of his most well-known books, The Quiet American (1955).

Greene limited himself to writing just 500 words per day, and would even stop writing in the middle of a sentence, but he ended up publishing more than 30 books.

Graham Greene said, "We are all of us resigned to death: it's life we aren't resigned to." And, "Morality comes with the sad wisdom of age, when the sense of curiosity has withered."

It's the birthday of comedian Groucho Marx, (books by this author) born in New York City (1890). In 1908 he began acting with his brothers, Harpo and Chico, and they became famous as the Marx Brothers. Groucho was known for his thick fake mustache, which he started using after he arrived late to a stage production and didn't have time to glue on his normal fake mustache. He used black grease paint as a substitute and liked it so much that he never switched. He was known as the most talkative Marx brother, and he's famous for his snappy insults. He said, "Marriage is a wonderful institution. That is, if you like living in an institution." And, "I never forget a face, but in your case, I'll make an exception."

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