Body and soul, let’s all go / transformed into arrows! / Piercing the air / body and soul, let’s go / with no turning back.
August 15, 1982: On this day, Ko Un was released from prison under a general amnesty. The former Buddhist monk, who had been given a life sentence for resisting the South Korean military dictatorship, went on to become one of the most acclaimed poets in Korea.
A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.
August 1, 1915: Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken was first published in the Atlantic Monthly 102 years ago today. While the poem works as a metaphor for the weight we put on turning points in our lives, Frost later insisted the verses were simply inspired by a literal walk in the woods.
In secret we met
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
George Gordon Byron
May 17, 1824: Before dying in Greece, Lord Byron entrusted a friend with his memoirs. Other friends, worried that the memoirs would be scandalous, fought to destroy the manuscript—190 years ago today, they succeeded, tearing it up and burning it in the office of Byron’s publisher.
Sometimes thou seem’st not as thyself alone, But as the meaning of all things that are.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
February 10, 1862: Poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s wife, Lizzie Siddal, died 152 years ago today. At her funeral the distraught husband lay the only manuscript of his poems to rest in his wife’s coffin. Seven years later, he had her body exhumed and retrieved his work.
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
During a five-decade literary career, American poet and political activist Muriel Rukeyser (born December 15, 1913) produced work rich with commentary on human rights issues and inequalities of gender, race and class. Her more than a dozen poetry collections reacted to events including the Spanish Civil War and American aggression in Vietnam. One of her last poems, The Gates, was written after she traveled to South Korea to protest the imprisonment of poet Kim Chi-Ha.
There are books so alive that you’re always afraid that while you weren’t reading, the book has gone and changed, has shifted like a river.
Marina Tsvetaeva (born October 8, 1892) is considered one of the most accomplished Russian poets of the 20th century—but her life was filled with sorrow and tragedy. She primarily wrote lyrical verse, and when she left the Soviet Union to live in Berlin, Prague, and Paris, her work began to reflect a growing nostalgia for her homeland (Homesick for the Motherland). Ultimately her army officer husband was arrested for espionage along with their daughter, and Tsvetaeva killed herself in 1941 after he was executed.
I believe in the magic and authority of words.
In the early 1930s, popular French poet René Char (born June 14, 1907) rubbed elbows with Pablo Picasso and Albert Camus, but when World War II brought German soldiers to his country, he put down his pen and said goodbye to his friends. Char joined the French resistance in 1940, leading troops and commanding a parachute drop zone under the nom de guerre Captain Alexandre.
Writing is learning to say nothing, more cleverly each day.
Irish poet William Allingham (born March 19, 1824) achieved a moderate level of fame during his lifetime, but he is best remembered for his posthumously published diary, which was edited by his wife. The diary details his entertaining encounters with Alfred Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and other famous writers.