Oct. 2, 2010

Lobsters in the Window

by W.D. Snodgrass

First, you think they are dead.
Then you are almost sure
One is beginning to stir.
Out of the crushed ice, slow
As the hands of a schoolroom clock,
He lifts his one great claw
And holds it over his head;
Now, he is trying to walk.

But like a run-down toy;
Like the backward crabs we boys
Splashed after in the creek,
Trapped in jars or a net,
And then took home to keep.
Overgrown, retarded, weak,
He is fumbling yet
From the deep chill of his sleep

As if, in a glacial thaw,
Some ancient thing might wake
Sore and cold and stiff
Struggling to raise one claw
Like a defiant fist;
Yet wavering, as if
Starting to swell and ache
With that thick peg in the wrist.

I should wave back, I guess.
But still in his permanent clench
He's fallen back with the mass
Heaped in their common trench
Who stir, but do not look out
Through the rainstreaming glass,
Hear what the newsboys shout,
Or see the raincoats pass.

"Lobsters in the Window" by W.D. Snodgrass, from Selected Poems: 1957-1987. © Soho Press, 1987. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Wallace Stevens, (books by this author) born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1879). His collections include Ideas of Order (1936), Owl's Clover (1936), The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), Parts of a World (1942), Transport to Summer (1947), The Auroras of Autumn (1950), Opus Posthumous (1957), and The Palm at the End of the Mind (1972).

He went to a boys' school and then to Harvard, and he hoped to be a journalist. But in the end, he did want his father wanted him to do, and he went to law school. He took a job with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he worked for the rest of his life inspecting surety claims.

He claimed that "poetry and surety claims aren't as unlikely a combination as they may seem. There's nothing perfunctory about them for each case is different." Each day, he walked the two miles between his office and home, where he lived with his wife and daughter. During these walks to and from work, he composed poetry. He would only let people walk with him if they didn't talk.

He carried slips of paper in his pocket to jot down ideas and notes, and then gave them to his secretary to type out. When they had been typed out, the poetry notes went in a folder. He told an interviewer: "I just write poetry when I feel like it. I write best when I can concentrate, and do that best while walking. Any number of poems have been written on the way from the house to the office."

He said: "I prefer to keep a poem until I've completely forgotten it, then revise it. But I don't revise much. Anything I've finally gotten out, I'd be reluctant to change. A change resulting from no more than forced labor is not the right thing for poetry."
His first collection of poems, Harmonium, was published when he was 43 years old. Though the volume received only lukewarm praise at first, it later became considered a modernist classic. In 1955, just months before he died, he received both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his volume Collected Poems.

He wrote:
Poetry is the supreme Fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms
Like windy citherns, hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That's clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began.

In his book Opus Posthumous, Stevens writes, "After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life's redemption." And he wrote, "The whole race is a poet that writes down / The eccentric propositions of its fate."

It's the birthday of Graham Greene, (books by this author) born in Hertfordshire, England (1904), the author of such novels as The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The End of the Affair (1951), The Quiet American (1955), and Our Man in Havana (1958).

He had bipolar disorder, and he once told his wife, Vivien, that it gave him "a character profoundly antagonistic to ordinary domestic life" and that "unfortunately, the disease is also one's material." He attempted suicide several times as a teenager. When he was 16, he had a nervous breakdown and became a patient of one of Freud's students. He fell in love with his therapist's wife.

He joined the Communist Party in 1925 for six weeks, and the next year he converted to Catholicism so that his girlfriend would marry him. He also converted because, he said, "I had to find a religion ... to measure my evil against." In one of his novels, he wrote: "I believe there's a God — I believe the whole bag of tricks; there's nothing I don't believe; they could subdivide the Trinity into a dozen parts and I'd believe." He became known as a "Catholic novelist," though didn't himself like the label.

During World War II, his London house was bombed by a German blitz, but Greene survived because he was spending the night at his mistress's apartment. His wife later said, "His life was saved because of his infidelity." A different affair (and the guilt from it) provided the inspiration for his famous novel The End of the Affair, which begins:

"A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment from which to look back or from which to look ahead. I say 'one chooses' with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who — when he has been seriously noted at all — has been praised for his technical ability, but do I in fact of my own will choose that black wet January night on the Common, in 1946, the sight of Henry Miles slanting across the wide river of rain, or did these images choose me?"

Graham Greene died in 1991, at the age of 86.

He once said, "In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths."

And he said, "Morality comes with the sad wisdom of age, when the sense of curiosity has withered."

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




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