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“The children start school now in August.
They say it has to do with air-conditioning,
but I know sadism when I see it.”
― from My Southern Journey: True Stories
from the Heart of the South, by Rick Bragg
“The month of August had turned into a griddle where the days just lay there and sizzled.”
― from The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
Before we celebrate eleven poets who were born this week, there is some history that should be remembered, lest we forget:
On August 9, 1945, the United States dropped the ‘Fat Man’ plutonium bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Everything within a mile of ground zero was obliterated. An estimated 40,000 people died instantly. By the beginning of 1946, 30,000 more had died. Within the next five years, over 100,000 more died of radiation. The surrender of the Empire of Japan was announced by Japanese Emperor Hirohito on August 15, and was formally signed on September 2, 1945.
The day before the bombing, August 8, 1945, the United States ratified its membership in the newly-formed United Nations.
by Sara Teasdale
The sun was gone, and the moon was coming
Over the blue Connecticut hills;
The west was rosy, the east was flushed,
And over my head the swallows rushed
This way and that, with changeful wills.
I heard them twitter and watched them dart
Now together and now apart
Like dark petals blown from a tree;
The maples stamped against the west
Were black and stately and full of rest,
And the hazy orange moon grew up
And slowly changed to yellow gold
While the hills were darkened, fold on fold
To a deeper blue than a flower could hold.
Down the hill I went, and then
I forgot the ways of men,
For night-scents, heady, and damp and cool
Wakened ecstasy in me
On the brink of a shining pool.
O Beauty, out of many a cup
You have made me drunk and wild
Ever since I was a child,
But when have I been sure as now
That no bitterness can bend
And no sorrow wholly bow
One who loves you to the end?
And though I must give my breath
And my laughter all to death,
And my eyes through which joy came,
And my heart, a wavering flame;
If all must leave me and go back
Along a blind and fearful track
So that you can make anew,
Fusing with intenser fire,
Something nearer your desire;
If my soul must go alone
Through a cold infinity,
Or even if it vanish, too,
Beauty, I have worshipped you.
Let this single hour atone
For the theft of all of me.
“August Moonrise” from The Collected Poems of Sara Teasdale, © 1920 by Sara Teasdale – Pantianos Classics, 2017 edition
Sara Teasdale, American poet, was born August 8 1884, in St. Louis, Missouri into a devout family. She was in poor health as a child, and was home-schooled until she was nine. At age 23, Teasdale published her first poetry collection, Sonnets to Duse and Other Poems (1907). She traveled frequently to Chicago, and became part of Harriet Monroe’s circle (Monroe became the founding publisher of Poetry magazine in 1912, and its long-time editor). Teasdale married in 1914, and moved with her husband to New York City in 1916. In 1918, she won the Columbia University Poetry Society Prize (which became the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry) and the Poetry Society of America Prize for Love Songs, which had appeared in 1917. Between 1911 and 1930, she published six volumes of poetry, including Flame and Arrow; Dark of the Moon; and Stars To-night. Her husband’s constant travel for business led to her filing for divorce in 1929. She lived alone as a semi-invalid, until she committed suicide in January, 1933. Her final book, Strange Victory, was published posthumously.
from Troilus and Cressida
by John Dryden
Can life be a blessing,
Or worth the possessing,
Can life be a blessing if love were away?
Ah no! though our love all night keep us waking,
And though he torment us with cares all the day,
Yet he sweetens, he sweetens our pains in the taking,
There’s an hour at the last, there’s an hour to repay.
In ev’ry possessing,
The ravishing blessing,
In ev’ry possessing the fruit of our pain,
Poor lovers forget long ages of anguish,
Whate’er they have suffer’d and done to obtain;
‘Tis a pleasure, a pleasure to sigh and to languish,
When we hope, when we hope to be happy again.
Troilus and Cressida is in the public domain.
John Dryden, leading Restoration poet and literary critic, was born August 9, 1631, in the village rectory of Aldwincle, Northamptonshire, England, where his maternal grandfather was the rector. His family were Puritan landowning gentry who supported Parliament. He was sent to Westminster, a humanist public school, and then went up to Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1654, he earned his undergraduate degree, and his father died, leaving him some land which provided him with a small income, but not enough to live on. He went London, where he went to work for Oliver Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. He published his first notable poem, “Heroic Stanzas” in 1659, a restrained eulogy on Cromwell’s death. In 1660, Dryden celebrated the Restoration of the Monarchy and the return of Charles II with “Astraea Redux” showing the recent past as a time of chaos, and Charles as the restorer of peace and order. Dryden had learned the art of survival in shifting times. He quickly consolidated his reputation with “To His Sacred Majesty: A Panegyric on his Coronation” and “To My Lord Chancellor.” He married a royalist, Lady Elizabeth Howard, but the marriage was a difficult one, exacerbated by her relatives looking down on Dryden because of his more humble social origins. In 1660, the Puritan ban on theatres was lifted, and he began writing plays, with mixed results at first, but was soon contracted to produce three plays a year for the King’s Company. For the next 20 years it would be his main source of income, interrupted in 1665 by the closing of London theatres because of the plague. However, he became best known for satiric verse. Dryden died in May, 1700, at age 68. In his will, he left The George Inn at Northampton to trustees, to form a school for the children of the poor of the town. This became John Dryden’s School, later The Orange School.
by Philip Larkin
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.
I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:
Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
“The Mower” from Collected Poems, © 1989, Estate of Philip Larkin – Farrar Straus & Giroux, Ltd.
Philip Larkin , British poet, critic, essayist, and librarian, was born August 9, 1922 in Coventry, England. He earned his BA from St. John’s College, Oxford, where he befriended novelist and poet Kingsley Amis and finished with First Class Honors in English. After graduating, Larkin undertook professional studies to become a librarian. He worked in libraries his entire life, first in Shropshire and Leicester, and then at Queen’s College in Belfast, and finally as librarian at the University of Hull. His poetry is a small part of his published work, but it is for his poetry that he is best remembered, though in addition to his other work, he wrote reviews of jazz music, and two novels. Larkin was a private man, who declined an OBE in 1968, and declined the post of Poet Laureate in 1984. The following year, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and an attempt at surgical removal revealed the cancer had spread too far. He died in December 1985 at the age of 63.
by Mark Doty
Fetch? Balls and sticks capture my attention
seconds at a time. Catch? I don’t think so.
Bunny, tumbling leaf, a squirrel who’s—oh
joy—actually scared. Sniff the wind, then
I’m off again: muck, pond, ditch, residue
of any thrillingly dead thing. And you?
Either you’re sunk in the past, half our walk,
thinking of what you never can bring back,
or else you’re off in some fog concerning
—tomorrow, is that what you call it? My work:
to unsnare time’s warp (and woof!), retrieving,
my haze-headed friend, you. This shining bark,
a Zen master’s bronzy gong, calls you here,
entirely, now: bow-wow, bow-wow, bow-wow.
“Golden Retrievals” from Sweet Machine: Poems, © 1998 by Mark Doty – HarperCollins
Mark Doty, American poet and memoirist, was born August 10, 1953, in Maryville, Tennessee. He is best known for his collection My Alexandria, which won the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. In 1995, he became the first American poet to win the T.S. Eliot Prize, also for My Alexandria. His other poetry collections include Turtle, Swan; Bethlehem in Broad Daylight; Atlantis; and Fire to Fire, which won the 2008 National Book Award. Doty has also written three memoirs – Heaven’s Coast, Firebird, and Dog Years – and Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, a prose meditation.
(On the Western Seaboard of South Uist)
by Hugh MacDiarmid
I found a pigeon’s skull on the machair,
All the bones pure white and dry, and chalky,
Without a crack or a flaw anywhere
At the back, rising out of the beak,
Were twin domes like bubbles of thin bone,
Almost transparent, where the brain had been
That fixed the tilt of the wings.
“Perfect” from The Collected Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid – Macmillan, 1967 edition
Hugh MacDiarmid, notable figure of the Scottish Renaissance and poet, was born August 11, 1892, in Langholm in southern Scotland as Christopher M. Grieve, son of a postman. He was also a journalist and an essayist. In 1923, he published his first book, Annals of the Five Senses, at his own expense. His poetry collections include Sangschaw, Penny Wheep, and his most influential work, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle. He developed Lallans, a literary version of Lowland Scots, and wrote much of his later poetry in Lallans. At age 41, he moved with his wife and son to the Shetland Island of Whalsay, populated by crofters and fisherfolk. MacDiarmid was a supporter of both communism and Scottish nationalism, views that often put him at odds with his contemporaries. He was a founding member of the National Party of Scotland. In 1942, he returned to the mainland for war work, and lived for a time in Glasgow. He died in Edinburgh at age 86 in 1978.
Song for a Lyre
by Louise Bogan
The landscape where I lie
Again from boughs sets free
Summer; all night must fly
In wind’s obscurity
The thick, green leaves that made
Heavy the August shade.
Soon, in the pictured night,
Returns — as in a dream
Left after sleep’s delight —
Hie shallow autumn stream:
Softly awake, its sound
Poured on the chilly ground.
Soon fly the leaves in throngs;
O love, though once I lay
Far from its sound, to weep,
When night divides my sleep,
When stars, the autumn stream,
Stillness, divide my dream,
Night to your voice belongs.
“Song for a Lyre” from Collected Poems: 1923-53, © 1953 by Louise Bogan – Noonday
Louise Bogan, notable American poet and critic, was born August 11, 1897 in Maine, the daughter of a millworker and unhappy mother. A benefactor helped her to attend the Girls’ Latin School in Boston. Bogan and her husband lived in the Panama Canal Zone for a time, but separated in 1919. She lived in Vienna (1920-1923), before moving to New York, where she had jobs in a bookstore, and worked for anthropologist Margaret Mead. From 1931 until she retired just before her death in 1970, she was the poetry reviewer for The New Yorker magazine. She published her first volume of poetry, Body of This Death, in 1923. Her other collections include Dark Summer; Sleeping Fury; Poems and New Poems. Her last collection was The Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923-1968.
The Things We Love
by Enid Blyton
Blue of sky and blue of sea,
And where they meet is hid from me,
For on this hot and hazy day
The far horizon’s slipped away.
White gulls sail against the sky,
With laughing calls they circle high,
Then on the breeze with wing outspread
They glide in grace above my head.
And lovely as the gulls in grace
Are those white sailing-ships that trace
A silvery wake across the blue
And dip and skim as swallows do.
Blue of sea and blue of sky,
Swiftly summer hurries by,
But within our memories deep
All the things we love we’ll keep.
“The Things We Love” by Enid Blyton, from a 1942 ‘Sunny Stories Calendar’
Enid Blyton, prolific English children’s writer of both prose and poetry, was born August 11, 1897, in Hampstead, London. Her first book was Child Whispers, a poetry collection published in 1922. She is best known for her series Noddy, Famous Five, Secret Seven, Five Find-Outers, Malory Towers, and The Faraway Tree. Many critics and teachers deemed her work too simplistic, or disliked her books because she portrayed only the children of privileged families, or accused her of racism because of her book, The Little Black Doll. However, her books have been worldwide bestseller s since the 1930s, selling over 600 million copies, and they are still popular today. Jigsaw puzzles and games based on her stories, produced from the late 1940s through the 1980s, were also very popular. Blyton died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1968 at age 71.
Inscription 07 – For A Tablet On The Banks Of A Stream
by Robert Southey
Stranger! awhile upon this mossy bank
Recline thee. If the Sun rides high, the breeze,
That loves to ripple o’er the rivulet,
Will play around thy brow, and the cool sound
Of running waters soothe thee. Mark how clear
It sparkles o’er the shallows, and behold
Where o’er its surface wheels with restless speed
Yon glossy insect, on the sand below
How the swift shadow flies. The stream is pure
In solitude, and many a healthful herb
Bends o’er its course and drinks the vital wave:
But passing on amid the haunts of man,
It finds pollution there, and rolls from thence
A tainted tide. Seek’st thou for HAPPINESS?
Go Stranger, sojourn in the woodland cot
Of INNOCENCE, and thou shalt find her there.
“Inscription 07 – For A Tablet On The Banks Of A Stream” is in the public domain.
Robert Southey, English poet of the Romantic school. was born August 12, 1774, in Bristol. He was also a Lake School poet, living in the Lake District. He, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Charles and Mary Lamb, were the best-known writers living in the area at that time, and he was Poet Laureate (1813-1843). He is remembered for the original version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” “The Curse of Kehama” and his poem “After Bleinheim.” He was also an essayist, historian, and a biographer of Horatio Nelson, John Wesley, and Thomas More. Though a radical in his youth, like William Wordsworth, he became more conservative as he grew older, and was accused by Lord Byron and other contemporaries of selling out for money and status. He died at age 68 in 1843.
Men At Thirty
by Donald Justice
Thirty today, I saw
The trees flare briefly like
The candles upon a cake
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash
Yet there was time to wish
Before the break light could die
If I had known what to wish
As once I must have known
Bending above the clean candlelit tablecloth
To blow them out with a breath
“Men At Thirty” from Collected Poems, © 2004 by Donald Justice – Borzoi Book/Alfred A. Knopf
Donald Justice, American poet, essayist, and critic who taught creative writing for many years at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, was born August 12, 1925 in Miami, Florida. He won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Selected Poems. His thirteen volumes of poetry include The Summer Anniversaries, Night Light, Departures, and The Sunset Maker. He died at age 78 of pneumonia, but had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
by Katharine Lee Bates
Beside the country road with truant grace
Wild carrot lifts its circles of white lace.
From vines whose interwoven branches drape
The old stone walls, come pungent scents of grape.
The sumach torches burn; the hardhack glows;
From off the pines a healing fragrance blows;
The pallid Indian pipe of ghostly kin
Listens in vain for stealthy moccasin.
In pensive mood a faded robin sings;
A butterfly with dusky, gold-flecked wings
Holds court for plumy dandelion seed
And thistledown, on throne of fireweed.
The road goes loitering on, till it hath missed
Its way in goldenrod, to keep a tryst,
Beyond the mosses and the ferns that veil
The last faint lines of its forgotten trail,
With Lonely Lake, so crystal clear that one
May see its bottom sparkling in the sun
With many-colored stones. The only stir
On its green banks is of the kingfisher
Dipping for prey, but oft, these haunted nights,
That mirror shivers into dazzling lights,
Cleft by a falling star, a messenger
From some bright battle lost, Excalibur.
“In August” from Selected Poems of Katharine Lee Bates, edited by Marion Pelton – Houghton Mifflin, 1930 edition
Katharine Lee Bates was born August 12, 1859 in Falmouth, Massachusetts. American writer, poet, academic, and social activist; best known for her poem “America the Beautiful,” became the lyrics for the song. She was one of the pioneers in creating American Literature as a field of study, teaching one of the first college courses at her alma mater Wellesley College, and writing one of the first textbooks on the subject. She co-founded Denison House, a settlement house in Boston, and worked for the rights of women, workers, people of color, immigrants, and slum dwellers; after WWI, she was active in the peace movement, supported the idea of the League of Nations, and opposed American isolationism. She died at age 69 in 1929.
by Radclyffe Hall
The clustering grapes of purple vine
Are crushed to make the crimson wine.
The poppies in the grasses deep
Are crushed to brew the draught of sleep.
The roses, when their glories bloom
Are crushed to yield their soul’s perfume.
And hearts, perchance of these the least,
Are crushed for nectar at Love’s feast!
“A Fragment” from The Poetry of Radclyffe Hall, Volume 2 – Portable Poetry, 2015 edition
Radclyffe Hall, English author and poet, was born August 12, 1880, in Bournemouth, Dorset, England. She is best known for her novel, The Well of Loneliness, a ground-breaking work of lesbian literature, but she also wrote short stories and several volumes of poetry, including Twixt Earth and Stars, A Sheaf of Verses, The Forgotten Island, and Rhymes and Rhythms. She dropped her first name Marguerite, and frequently wore men’s trousers and hats, and a monocle. Her novel Adams’ Breed won both the 1926 James Tait Black Prize for Fiction and the 1927 Prix Femina–Vie Heureuse. In 1930, she received the Gold Medal of the Eichelbergher Humane Award. In 1943, she was diagnosed with cancer, and she died that year at age 63.