Oct. 28, 2006

The Lady's-Maid's Song

by John Hollander

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "The Lady's-Maid's Song" by John Hollander, from Selected Poetry. © Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Lady's-Maid's Song

When Adam found his rib was gone
   He cursed and sighed and cried and swore
And looked with cold resentment on
   The creature God had used it for.
All love's delights were quickly spent
   And soon his sorrows multiplied:
He learned to blame his discontent
   On something stolen from his side.

And so in every age we find
   Each Jack, destroying every Joan,
Divides and conquers womankind
   In vengeance for his missing bone.
By day he spins out quaint conceits
   With gossip, flattery, and song,
But then at night, between the sheets,
   He wrongs the girl to right the wrong.

Though shoulder, bosom, lip, and knee
   Are praised in every kind of art,
Here is love's true anatomy:
   His rib is gone; he'll have her heart.
So women bear the debt alone
   And live eternally distressed,
For though we throw the dog his bone
   He wants it back with interest.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the mystery novelist Anne Perry, (books by this author) born in Juliet Marion Hulme in London (1938). She is the creator of a series of popular mystery novels that take place in Victorian England, including The Cater Street Hangman (1979) and Pentecost Alley (1996). She's also one of the few mystery novelists ever to have been convicted of murder herself.

As a teenager, while under the influence of an experimental medication for a respiratory ailment, she helped a friend murder the friend's mother. The two 15-year-old girls were caught and convicted of murder, and the case became one of the most notorious in New Zealand criminal history. Perry became the youngest inmate in a woman's prison that had the reputation as the toughest in the country. She served her time, and upon release, changed her name and moved to England where she began writing mysteries. Even after she became a successful novelist, no one but her closest family and friends knew anything about her past.

But just as her 20th book Traitors Gate (1995) was about to be released, she was contacted by a journalist who had tracked her down at tied her to that original murder trial. She seriously considered going into hiding, away from the public scrutiny, but decided against it. Instead, she immediately called and visited all her neighbors, friends, and colleagues and told them the truth about her past, and even went on her book tour. She said, "In some way perhaps it was the last step as far as healing is concerned. Because I'm finding that now practically everybody in the world knows who I really am—and they still like me."

It's the birthday of British satirist Evelyn Waugh, (books by this author) born in London (1903). He didn't do well in school, and he left Oxford without receiving a degree. He tried working as a teacher, but he got fired from three schools in two years. He said, "I was from the first an obvious dud." He was seriously in debt, without a job, and had just been rejected by the girl he liked, when he decided to drown himself in the ocean. He wrote a suicide note and jumped in the sea, but before he got very far, he was stung by a jellyfish. He scrambled back to shore, tore up his suicide note, and decided to give life a second chance.

He didn't know what else to do, so he wrote a novel about a young teacher at a private school where the other teachers are all drunks, child molesters, and escaped convicts; and the mother of one student is running an international prostitution ring. His publishers forced him to preface the book with a disclaimer that said, "Please bear in mind throughout that it is meant to be funny." The novel Decline and Fall was published in 1928, and it was a big success.

Waugh went on to write many more novels, including A Handful of Dust (1934), and several books of travel writing such as Waugh in Abyssinia (1936) and Mexico: An Object Lesson (1939).

It's the birthday of poet John Hollander, (books by this author) born in New York City (1929). He went to Columbia University, where his teachers included Mark Van Doren and Lionel Trilling, and one of his classmates was Allen Ginsberg. He said, "It was perhaps the most exciting moment in history to be at an American university."

He supported himself writing liner notes for classical music albums, learned to play a variety of medieval musical instruments, and then went back to school to get his Ph.D. in literature. He's worked as a teacher ever since, writing poetry on the side.

His collection Picture Window came out in 2004.

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