Feb. 21, 2010


by W. H. Auden

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's sensual ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of sweetness show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find your mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness see you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

"Lullaby" by W.H. Auden, from As I Walked Out One Eveing. © Vintage, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet W.H. Auden, (books by this author) born Wystan Hugh Auden in York, England (1907). In his long poem "Letter to Lord Byron," he described the moment when he decided to become a poet:
When walking in a ploughed field with a friend;
    Kicking a little stone, he turned to me
    And said, 'Tell me, do you write poetry?'
I never had, and said so, but I knew
That very moment what I wished to do.

It's the birthday of writer and diarist Anaïs Nin (books by this author) born in Neuilly, France (1903). She wrote: "The few moments of communion with the world are worth the pain, for it is a world for others, an inheritance for others, a gift to others, in the end. When you make a world tolerable for yourself, you make a world tolerable for others."

It's the birthday of writer Ha Jin, (books by this author) born in Liaoning Province in China (1956). He was a bright student, chosen to attend a competitive school away from home, but after a couple of years his family could no longer afford to send him there, and then the Cultural Revolution broke out. He said, "We had nothing to study in school, so we played on the streets or went into mountains to pick up peanuts and sweet potatoes left by the peasants in the fields." He went into the army, and he practiced reading with propaganda material and Communist books.

He went on to graduate school in the United States, and then he stayed there, and started writing poetry, short stories, and novels. His many award-winning books include Under the Red Flag (1997), Waiting (1999), and most recently, A Good Fall (2009).

It's the birthday of Chuck Palahniuk, (books by this author) born in Burbank, Washington (1962). He wrote some short stories, a long novel, and then another novel, Invisible Monsters, which was rejected across the board for being too dark. In response, he said, "I thought I could either write something that's less dark and upsetting or I could write something that's 10 times as dark and upsetting." So he thought about a time when he got in a big fight on the weekend and showed up for work with his face battered, but all of his co-workers acted as if nothing had happened. And he read an interview with Amy Sedaris, in which she described an experiment where she put on make-up to look like she had been beaten, and then went to a photo shoot and to work, and was similarly ignored. Palahniuk said, "You could really do anything you wanted in your personal life, as long as you looked so bad that people would not want to know the details." So he made up a story that would be 10 times darker and more upsetting than Invisible Monsters, a story about men who get in brutal fights as recreation, just for the experience. And that story was Fight Club (1996). He didn't really expect it to be published — he said, "I wrote Fight Club to punish those people" who had rejected his first book — but three days later, it was accepted by W.W. Norton. It was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, and the book became a huge best-seller.

Palahniuk has published nine novels since Fight Club, including Choke (2001), Lullaby (2002), and last year's Pygmy (2009), which debuted at #3 on the New York Times Best-Seller List. His novel Tell-All will come out this year.

It's the birthday of humorist Erma Bombeck, (books by this author) born in Dayton, Ohio (1927). She wrote a regular newspaper column called "At Wit's End" for a small suburban newspaper, beginning in 1964, covering what she called the "utility-room beat." She kept it up until 1994, and eventually her column became so popular that it was syndicated in more than 600 newspapers. She wrote numerous books, including collections of her syndicated columns, and her novel The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank (1976) was one of the top-selling books of the year, and from then on, all of her books were best sellers.

She said, "God created man, but I could do better."

It's the birthday of David Foster Wallace, (books by this author) born in Ithaca, New York (1962). He authored Infinite Jest (1996), which was 1,079 pages long with 388 footnotes. It was dense and intellectual, a futurist novel about addiction, tennis, and separatist groups, among many other subjects. But it was a best seller, and it propelled Wallace into the literary spotlight. He was considered one of the country's most promising young novelists. He published a couple of books of short stories, and then he committed suicide in 2008, at the age of 46. He was working on a novel at the time of his death, about a third of the way done. It's a novel about boredom. The book will be published next year as The Pale King.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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