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,
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.