Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Surprising Joyce

poet Richard Wilbur (1921-)

Joyce is not too surprised by me anymore. We were married in December 1969, so she's had a few decades to figure me out, and most of the time there's not a lot to figure. As I've posted here numerous times before, I am a Critter of Habit, and she pretty much knows where I am and what I'm doing all the time.

But just this week ... I got her!

On New Year's Eve, she had told me that she'd loved the poem posted that day on Writer's Almanac--Richard Wilbur's "Year's End" (link to the poem).

We have a little history with Wilbur. He lives in Cummington, Mass. (not all that far from my mom's and brothers' place in eastern Mass.--about thirty miles northeast). We had gone there on July 10, 2002, part of a massive trip around the East looking at literary sites--Poe, Frost, Longfellow, Dickinson, et al. I had just completed my first year back at Western Reserve Academy (after a twenty-year absence!) and was gathering material for teaching American lit (my task at WRA). Anyway, in Cummington is the former home of poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)--a home of course, that we visited (outside only: it was closed!).
Bryant's home in Cummington, MA
We knew that Wilbur lived there, too--but not where, so we drove off in search of other literary notables.

Wilbur also has edited (and written an introduction to) a collection of poems by Edgar Poe (1959), and I've long been interested in that dark dude--and have written about him.

And then I learned that Wilbur attended the same Episcopal church in Lenox as my mother did. Well  I sent her some Wilbur first editions, which he graciously signed for her.

Over the years I'd also memorized a few Wilbur poems--“Ecclesiastes 11:1,” “The House,” “April 5, 1974” (all easy to find online).

So ...

I decided to memorize "Year's End"--and surprise Joyce in the process.

It took me a while. It's fairly long. The diction is unusual in places, the ideas a bit complicated. It took me most of January, in fact, though (to be honest) I didn't work on it every day.

And then--a couple of days ago (the 27th)--I got home from my morning stint at the coffee shop. I walked upstairs to Joyce's study to chat (another of my habits), and while we were doing so, I handed her the raggedy print-out of the poem I'd been carrying around for a month. She looked at it. Saw what it was. I launched into it (made two mistakes ... sigh).

And enjoyed the surprise in her eyes, saw some dampness there, dampness that matched my own.

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