Oct. 15, 2008

The Cows at Night

by Hayden Carruth

The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them-forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.

"The Cows At Night" by Hayden Carruth from Toward the Distant Islands: New & Selected Poems. © Copper Canyon Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the Italian novelist Italo Calvino, (books by this author) born in Santiago de Las Vegas, Cuba, in 1923. He wanted to do for Italy what the Brothers Grimm had done for Germany. He published Italian Folktales in 1956, and after that he wrote novels influenced by all the folktales he learned. These novels are full of magic and allegory, and they include Baron in the Trees (1957) and If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (1981).

It's the birthday of P.G. Wodehouse, (books by this author) born Pelham Grenville Wodehouse in Guildford, England (1881). He's best known for his books about a butler named Jeeves and his employer, Bertie Wooster. Jeeves is constantly saving Wooster from all kinds of absurd situations.

It's the birthday of the novelist Mario Puzo, (books by this author) born in New York City in 1920. He was the son of Italian immigrants. He wrote two novels that sold almost no copies, and he was in serious debt. Then one Christmas Eve, he had a severe gall bladder attack, and he was in so much pain that he fell into the gutter. As he was lying there, he said to himself, "Here I am, a published writer, and I am dying like a dog." He vowed that if he got better he would devote the rest of his life to becoming rich and famous. His next book was The Godfather (1969), a huge success, and he went on to write The Sicilian (1984) and The Last Don (1996). He said, "A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a thousand men with guns."

It's the birthday of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, (books by this author) born in Röcken, a village in Prussia (1844). His most famous book is called Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883). Nietzsche is famous for claiming that "God is dead," but what he actually said is, "God is dead … and we have killed him!"

It's the birthday of the poet Virgil, (books by this author) born Publius Vergilius Maro near Mantua, Italy, 70 B.C.E. The government asked Virgil to write a poem persuading Romans who had left the countryside to return home and become farmers again. He wrote The Georgics, a kind of poetic farming manual about grain production, trees, animal husbandry, and beekeeping. The emperor was so impressed that he gave Virgil a generous stipend, and the poet spent the rest of his life working on his epic poem, The Aeneid.

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