Monday, November 23, 2009

28. Now Close the Windows - Robert Frost

Now close the windows and hush all the fields;
If the trees must, let them silently toss;
No bird is singing now, and if there is,
Be it my loss.

It will be long ere the marshes resume,
It will be long ere the earliest bird:
So close the windows and not hear the wind,
But see all wind-stirred.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"XI." - Wendell Berry

Though he was ill and in pain,
in disobedience to the instruction he
would have received if he had asked,
the old man got up from his bed,
dressed, and went to the barn.
The bare branches of winter had emerged
through the last leaf-colors of fall,
the loveliest of all, browns and yellows
delicate and nameless in the gray light
and the sifting rain. He put feed
in the troughs for eighteen ewe lambs,
sent the dog for them, and she
brought them. They came eager
to their feed, and he who felt
their hunger was by their feeding
eased. From no place in the time
of present places, within no boundary
nameable in human thought,
they had gathered once again,
the shepherd, his sheep, and his dog
with all the known and the unknown
round about to the heavens' limit.
Was this his stubbornness or bravado?
No. Only an ordinary act
of profoundest intimacy in a day
that might have been better. Still
the world persisted in its beauty,
he in his gratitude, and for this
he had most earnestly prayed

From The Writer's Almanac

On this day in 1857, one of 19th-century Britain's most famous intellectuals, a man revered for his rational thinking, wrote one of his most hopelessly romantic letters ever. Walter Bagehot (books by this author) poured his heart out 152 years ago today to his fiancée, Elizabeth Wilson, whose father was the founder of The Economist magazine, in this letter:

My dearest Eliza,

… I wish indeed I could feel worthy of your affection — my reason, if not my imagination, is getting to believe you when you whisper to me that I have it, but as somebody says in Miss Austen, 'I do not at all mind having what is too good for me'; my delight is at times intense. You must not suppose because I tell you of the wild, burning pain which I have felt, and at times …still feel, that my love for you has ever been mere suffering. Even at the worst there was a wild, delicious excitement which I would not have lost for the world. … the feeling has been too eager not to have a good deal of pain in it, and the tension of mind has really been very great at times, still the time that I have known and loved you is immensely the happiest I have ever known.

Walter Bagehot was once identified as "The Greatest Victorian," though was demoted by later generations in favor of his contemporaries Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. He founded the National Review, and he eventually took over as editor-in-chief of The Economist. Bagehot strengthened the magazine's influence on government policy-making. He helped expand the publication's focus to include coverage of political issues as well as economic ones, and to analyze closely events happening in America (then in its Civil War and Reconstruction era).

Monday, November 9, 2009

"No Direction Home" - Charles Wright

After a certain age, there's no one left to turn to.
You've got to find Eurydice on your own,
you've got
To find the small crack
between here and everywhere else all by yourself.

How could it be otherwise?
Everyone's gone away, the houses are all empty,
And overcast starts to fill the sky like soiled insulation.

"The Sacred" - Stephen Dunn

After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank

in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing

things he'd chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,

their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person

who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need

to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.

A letter to Stella Campbell from George Bernard Shaw

Stella, Stella
Shut your ears tight against this blarneying Irish liar and actor. Read no more of his letters. He will fill his fountain pen with your heart's blood, and sell your most sacred emotions on the stage. … He is treacherous as only an Irishman can be: he adores you with one eye and sees you with the other as a calculated utility. He has been recklessly trying to please you, to delight you, to persuade you to carry him up to heaven for a moment (he is trying to do it now); and when you have done it, he will run away and give it all to the mob. … Oh dont, dont, DONT fall in love with him; but dont grudge him the joy he finds in being in love with you, and writing all sorts of wild but heartfelt exquisite lies — lies, lies, lies, lies — to you, his adoredest.

Friday, November 6, 2009

"Twenty-three" - Liam Rector

When he was 23 and beautiful
He liked to hang around
With other beautiful people.

He liked to get intoxicated with them,
Have sex with them, make money
With them. Among them,

He found, one did not have to strain.
Other people
Wanted to hang around with them

And came bearing gifts,
A little something. (These
Gift-bearers were a lot like

Politics itself is, "Showbiz
For ugly people.") In this world
If anything went wrong there

Was always enough money around
To cover it. After he was through
With this crowd he started hanging

Out with a bunch of academic
Gangsters. These were
A different crew altogether:

Smart, on the main, but mean
And eaten alive by resentment.
They never had enough money

And were bitter beyond belief,
Compared, say,
To a troupe of electricians.

Freud said somewhere
In our unconscious
We are always 23.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"A Pair of Barn Owls, Hunting" - David Wagoner

Now slowly, smoothly flying over the field
Beside the orchard into the after-light
Of the cold evening, the ash gold owls come sailing
Close to the branches, gliding across the arbor
Where the bare grapevines ripen only shadows
In the dead of winter, and at the end of a garden
Suddenly flare their wings, hover,
And swerve, claws first, down to the grass together.