Mar. 26, 2012

A Prayer in Spring

by Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

"A Prayer in Spring" by Robert Frost, from Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays. © The Library of America, 1995. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the poet and classical scholar A.E. (Alfred Edward) Housman (books by this author), born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, England (1859). He only published two books of poetry during his lifetime, but one of those was the 63-poem cycle A Shropshire Lad (1896). It includes the lines "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now / Is hung with bloom along the bough, / And stands about the woodland ride / Wearing white for Eastertide."

A.E. Housman, who said, "Knowledge is good, method is good, but one thing beyond all others is necessary; and that is to have a head, not a pumpkin, on your shoulders and brains, not pudding, in your head."

It's the birthday of playwright Tennessee Williams (books by this author), born Thomas Williams in Columbus, Mississippi (1911). In 1929, while attending the University of Missouri, Williams saw a production of Henrik Ibsen's play Ghosts and decided to become a playwright. His father pulled him out of college, and made him go work at the International Shoe Company instead. There, Williams worked with another young man whose name was Stanley Kowalski.

Williams continued to write, even while he was working a variety of odd jobs. His plays began to be produced by small local theater companies, and they earned good reviews, but not much money. He was nearly broke when The Glass Menagerie (1944) was produced, which proved to be a big commercial and critical success, first in Chicago and later on Broadway. The play, like much of his work, drew heavily from Williams' personal history; Elia Kazan, who directed many of his plays, once said, "Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life." He won a Pulitzer Prize with his next major play, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), which included a character named Stanley Kowalski.

It's the birthday of Robert Frost (1874) (books by this author). Born in San Francisco, he moved to Massachusetts when he was 11. He struggled a long time to become a successful poet. His style was out of fashion almost from the beginning — he was interested in the traditional forms of rhyme and meter, while his contemporaries such as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and T. S. Eliot were writing in modern free verse.

His early years were often rough. His father was a heavy drinker and died of tuberculosis when Frost was twelve years old, leaving the family impoverished. He had to drop out of college during his first year to work, and tried unsuccessfully to publish poetry. Frost was seriously depressed; at one point he followed a trail into the Dismal Swamp and considered drowning himself. He walked all night through the swamp, but something made him decide to head back home. He worked as teacher for a few years, but he never enjoyed it. Then, in 1900, he and his wife, Elinor, lost their first child. He fell into despair. That year, Frost tried his hand at raising poultry on 30-acre farm after his grandfather took pity on him and bought him a farm in Derry, New Hampshire, in hopes that it would give him a steady income. The experience shaped his poetic voice and provided inspiration for his most popular later poems, but he was a terrible farmer. In a letter to a friend, Frost wrote, "The only thing we had was time and seclusion."

He was 39 when he published his first collection of poems, A Boy's Will (1913), and it was a major success.

It's the birthday of the poet who said "Standing on a street corner waiting for no one is power." That's Gregory Corso (books by this author), born in New York City (1930). He was born on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. His parents were Italian teenagers, and a year after he was born, his mother went back to Italy. The boy spent his childhood in a series of orphanages, foster homes, New York jails, and even the Bellevue Hospital for "observation." When he was 16, he went to prison for three years for stealing food from a restaurant, and not long after his release in 1950, he met poet Allen Ginsberg in a Greenwich Village bar. Corso had done a lot of reading while in prison, and had started writing some poems himself; Ginsberg introduced him to more experimental forms. Corso became one of the leading poets of the Beat movement: in Ginsberg's words, "an awakener of youth."

In his poem "Writ on the Steps of Puerto Rican Harlem," Corso wrote: "I learned life were no dream/learned truth deceived/Man is not God/Life is a century/Death an instant."

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




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