Jun. 22, 2012

A Pasture Poem

by Richard Wilbur

This upstart thistle
Is young and touchy; it is
All barb and bristle,

Threatening to wield
Its green, jagged armament
Against the whole field.

Butterflies will dare
Nonetheless to lay their eggs
In that angle where

The leaf meets the stem,
So that ants or browsing cows
Cannot trouble them.

Summer will grow old
As will the thistle, letting
A clenched bloom unfold

To which the small hum
Of bee wings and the flash of
Goldfinch wings will come,

Till its purple crown
Blanches, and the breezes strew
The whole field with down.

"A Pasture Poem" by Richard Wilbur, from Anterooms. © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the GI Bill into law on this date in 1944. It was formally known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act. The newspapers barely covered the story, since they were occupied with the Allied invasion of Europe at the time. The bill had started because of worries that soldiers would come home from the war and be unable to find work; it was a form of unemployment insurance. It also offered small business or home loans at low interest and with no down payment requirement. In the process of drafting the bill, the congressional committee thought it would also be a good idea to offer to pay for college, for veterans who wanted to go. At the time, no one really thought that soldiers — most of whom were from farm or factory backgrounds — would be interested in higher education. Only 10 percent of Americans had gone to college before the war, and it was estimated that the rate would hold for veterans as well. But in the first year after the war, about a million returning soldiers applied for the money that the GI Bill offered them.

The original GI Bill ended in 1956, and during its run, nearly 8 million veterans made use of its education and training opportunities, and the 10 percent college graduation rate ballooned to 50 percent. In addition to getting an education, about 2.5 million people took out low-interest home loans backed by the Veterans Administration.

It's the birthday of the man who once gave the order, "Shoot a few scenes out of focus. I want to win the foreign film award." That was screenwriter, director, and producer Billy Wilder, born Samuel Wilder in Sucha, Austria (now Poland) (1906). His mother nicknamed him "Billy" because she was fascinated with Buffalo Bill. He first got into writing as a journalist, doing all kinds of interviews and stories, and was soon writing scenarios for silent films. He came to the United States in the 1930s, dated American women to improve his English, and got a job writing scripts for Fox Film Corporation. He first became a director, he said, to keep other people from messing with his scripts. He once said, "A director must be a policeman, a midwife, a psychoanalyst, a sycophant, and a bastard." He worked his way up the ladder and ended up producing and directing many classics of Hollywood's Golden Age: Double Indemnity (1944), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Some Like it Hot (1959), and The Apartment (1960), to name just a few.

Billy Wilder, who said, "An actor entering through the door, you've got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you've got a situation."

Today is the birthday of sci-fi author Octavia Butler (books by this author), born in Pasadena, California (1947). When she was 10, she started writing horse stories; when she was 11, she moved on to romance stories; and when she was 12, she saw a science fiction B-movie on television. It was called Devil Girl from Mars. "I thought, 'Geez, I can write a better story than that.' I got busy writing." She went on to become one of the only African-American women writing science fiction. She was also the first sci-fi author to win a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" grant, which she did in 1995.

One of Butler's books, Kindred (1979), had a hard time finding a publisher. It's the story of a woman from 1976 who travels back in time to a plantation, where she must work as a slave alongside her ancestors. No one could understand how a sci-fi novel could be set before the Civil War. But it has become one of her most popular books.

It's the birthday of best-selling novelist Dan Brown (books by this author), born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1964. His father was a math teacher at Phillips Exeter Academy, and Dan spent his childhood working on math puzzles. He said: "On Christmas morning, when we were little kids, he would create treasure hunts through the house with different limericks or mathematical puzzles that led us to the next clue. And so, for me, at a young age, treasure hunts were always exciting."

Brown decided to become a writer after he happened to pick up a Sidney Sheldon page-turner while on vacation. He hadn't read much popular fiction — at least not since he was a kid, reading The Hardy Boys — and by the end of the book, he thought he may as well try his hand at it. Brown wrote his first novel, Digital Fortress (1998), about the culture of NSA cryptographers, and he went on to write Angels and Demons (2000) and Deception Point (2001). The three novels sold pretty poorly. But when he revived Robert Langdon, the protagonist of Angels and Demons for a new book about secret messages in Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper," his career took off. Helped by a great review in The New York Times, The Da Vinci Code (2003) sold more in its first week than his other three novels combined.

His next Robert Langdon book, The Lost Symbol, came out in 2009, and he's said he has ideas for at least a dozen new Langdon stories.

On this date in 1633, the Vatican ruled that Galileo Galilei was "vehemently suspect of heresy." Galileo supported Copernicus's theory of heliocentrism: namely that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the universe. All his books were banned, and he was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

Of course, Galileo's theory wasn't quite right either. We do revolve around the Sun, but the Sun is just one little yellow star on the arm of the spiraling Milky Way galaxy.

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