Jun. 2, 2008

A Quiet Life

by Baron Wormser

What a person desires in life
   is a properly boiled egg.
This isn't as easy as it seems.
There must be gas and a stove,
   the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills,
   banks that dispense the lozenge of capital.
There must be a pot, the product of mines
   and furnaces and factories,
   of dim early mornings and night-owl shifts,
   of women in kerchiefs and men with
   sweat-soaked hair.
Then water, the stuff of clouds and skies
   and God knows what causes it to happen.
There seems always too much or too little
   of it and more pipelines, meters, pumping
   stations, towers, tanks.
And salt-a miracle of the first order,
   the ace in any argument for God.
    Only God could have imagined from
   nothingness the pang of salt.
Political peace too. It should be quiet
   when one eats an egg. No political hoodlums
   knocking down doors, no lieutenants who are
   ticked off at their scheming girlfriends and
   take it out on you, no dictators
   posing as tribunes.
It should be quiet, so quiet you can hear
   the chicken, a creature usually mocked as a type
   of fool, a cluck chained to the chore of her body.
Listen, she is there, pecking at a bit of grain
   that came from nowhere.

"A Quiet Life" by Baron Wormser, from Scattered Chapters. © Sarabande Books, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1865 that the Civil War came to a formal end. Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, surrendered, and the last Confederate army ceased to exist. The war that cost 620,000 American lives was over.

Emma LeConte, a 17-year-old from Columbia, South Carolina, wrote, "The troops are coming home. One meets long-absent familiar faces on the streets, and congregations once almost strictly feminine are now mingled with returned soldiers ... We expected to meet them exulting and victorious. That was to be a day of wildest joy, when the tidings of peace should reach us, and the thought of that time used to lighten our hearts and nerve us to bear every trial and privation. ... The army is disbanded now — Oh! Merciful God! — the hot tears rush into my eyes and I cannot write."

It's the birthday of John Hope, born in Augusta, Georgia, (1868). He was an educator and an advocate of liberal-arts instruction for blacks. He publicly disagreed with Booker T. Washington's 1895 "Atlanta Compromise" speech, where Washington called for blacks to focus on technical training and to abandon, at least for the time being, the struggle for political and social equality. Hope became the president of Atlanta University, the first graduate school for blacks, and was one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, a forerunner of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He said, "We have sat on the riverbank and caught catfish with pin hooks. The time has come to harpoon a whale."

It's the birthday of novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, (books by this author) born in Dorset, England (1840), the son of a rural carpenter and a London woman described as "powerful, rather than tender" with a "dark streak of gloom and anger." Hardy was apprenticed to be an architect but wanted pursue a literary career. Though fairly educated, he could not vote because he did not own property.

In 1874, he fell in love with and married Emma Lavinia Gifford, but he later became estranged from her. After her death, he married his secretary, who was 40 years younger than he. But he felt intensely remorseful about the estrangement from his first wife, and his Poems 1912-1913 were elegies for her and explorations of his grief. A biographer of Hardy called the collection "one of the finest and strangest celebrations of the dead in English poetry" and said, "The more risks he takes the less he falters."

He wrote a number of novels that were translated into films. Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), and Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891) were all made into silent films by the early 1920s. In the 1970s, the BBC commissioned adaptations of stories from his collection the Wessex Tales (1888).

In 1967, John Schlesinger made a film of Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd. Four years later, the BBC did a mini-series of his novel Jude the Obscure, which he had published in 1895.

Hardy said, "A lover without indiscretion is no lover at all. Circumspection and devotion are a contradiction in terms."

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