Amanuenses

AMANUENSES

 

Tolstoi’s wife wrote out the whole of War and Peace

in careful longhand—our professor told us—

narration and common speech in Russian,

the dialogue of aristocrats in French.

She performed this feat seven times, he said

as her famous husband obsessively revised the text,

again and again.

 

Blind Milton composed the stanzas of Paradise Lost

in the early morning hours.

Then at dawn, his daughter took dictation,

as depicted in the painting in the New York Public Library.

It was, she said, like milking a cow.

 

Wendell Berry, noble defender of the old agrarian ways,

spurns computers.

And why shouldn’t he?

“My wife,” he tells an interviewer, “types my work

on a Royal standard typewriter, bought in 1956.”

There’s more. “My wife, my critic, my closest reader, my fellow worker,”

he says, has served as his editor

for every poem, every story, every essay, every book.

Her name is not mentioned in the interview

Or in any byline or on any title page.

 

Let us now praise unrecognized women—

Sofia Tolstoi, Mary Milton, and Tanya Berry—

whose hidden roles made possible

the works we treasure.

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