The children have gone to bed.
We are so tired we could fold ourselves neatly
behind our eyes and sleep mid-word, sleep standing
warm among the creatures in the barn, lean together
and sleep, forgetting each other completely in the velvet,
the forgiveness of that sleep.
Then the one small cry:
one strike of the match-head of sound:
one child’s voice:
and the hundred names of love are lit
as we rise and walk down the hall.
One hundred nights we wake like this,
wake out of our nowhere
to kneel by small beds in darkness.
One hundred flowers open in our hands,
a name for love written in each one.
“The Hundred Names of Love” by Annie Lighthart from Iron String © Airlie Press, 2015. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It was on this day in 1865 that the Civil War came to a formal end. Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi, surrendered, and the last Confederate army ceased to exist. The war that cost 620,000 American lives was over.
Today is the birthday of English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (books by this author), born in Upper Bockhampton, Dorset (1840). Trained and apprenticed as an architect, he didn’t devote himself full time to writing until after the publication of his fourth novel, Far From the Madding Crowd (1874). This was also the first of Hardy’s novels to be set in “Wessex,” which was the old Anglo-Saxon name for the southwestern counties of England. His Wessex, though, was only partially based on a real place. “This is an imaginative Wessex only,” he once clarified. Readers responded positively to the regional focus, and, since he had given up steady work to become a writer, Hardy chose to respond to his Victorian audience’s preferences. He also wanted a trademark to set his novels apart. Though early mentions of Wessex referred only to the area in which he grew up, Hardy expanded the fictional region to include much of the southwest. He introduced South Wessex in The Return of the Native (1878), and created Upper and Mid-Wessex for Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). North, Nether, and Outer Wessex followed in Jude the Obscure (1895). Due to the popularity of his Wessex novels, the name has been revived, particularly as a concept for marketing and tourism.
Hardy made a living as a novelist, but he always considered himself a poet. He’d first begun writing after he moved to London in 1862. He attended plays and lectures, and was enchanted by the literary scene. He failed to publish any of his poems at that time, however, so he left London and began to work on novels, which he reckoned were more likely to make money. As his career went on, he became more pessimistic, and more interested in social realism. When his last two novels — Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895) — created scandal with their candid depictions of sex, Hardy became disgusted with fiction altogether. As he wrote years later: “Then somebody discovered that Jude was a moral work — austere in its treatment of a difficult subject — as if the writer had not all the time said in the Preface that it was meant to be so. Thereupon many uncursed me, and the matter ended, the only effect of it on human conduct that I could discover being its effect on myself — the experience completely curing me of the further interest in novel-writing.”
He published his first collection of poetry, Wessex Poems (1898), when he was 58, and went on to publish seven more volumes — about a thousand poems — in his lifetime.
It’s the birthday of Barbara Pym (books by this author), born in Oswestry, Shropshire, England (1913), the author of comic novels about English upper-middle-class life, including Excellent Women (1952) and Quartet in Autumn (1977).
It’s the birthday of the novelist Carol Shields (books by this author), born in Oak Park, Illinois (1935). She got married after college, moved to Winnipeg, and had five children. She said, “All I expected was a baby, a TV, a fridge, freezer, and a car.” But having children inspired her to write. She said: “Having children woke me up. I knew I had to pay attention. All my senses seemed sharpened. I seemed capable of more.”
Shields started writing poetry, then her first novel, Small Ceremonies. It came out when she was 41 years old. Her big success was Stone Diaries (1993), which won the Pulitzer. The book is a fictional biography of an apparently unremarkable woman named Daisy Goodwill Flett, who lives for more than 90 years, goes from rural Manitoba to Sarasota, Florida, marries several men, raises children, writes a gardening column, and whose final thought at the end of her life is, “I am not at peace.”
It’s the birthday of Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West (books by this author), born in Boston, Massachusetts (1907). At 19, she moved to New York City to receive an award for a story she’d written for Opportunity magazine (she’d tied with Zora Neale Hurston), and became friends with Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright. By the mid-1940s, West left New York and settled permanently in her family’s childhood vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard, where she wrote two novels, The Living is Easy (1948) and The Wedding (1995). The Wedding is set on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1950s and tells the story of a wealthy black family’s struggle with identity and race as the youngest daughter prepares to marry a white jazz musician.