Dec. 22, 1999
Poem: "Another Spring" by Kenneth Rexroth from his Collected Shorter Poems published by New Directions.
The Winter Solstice began today at 2:44 a.m. Eastern Timethe longest night of the year, marking the official beginning of winter. (In our Northern Hemisphere the sunrise and sunset points on the horizon are now at the most southern points of the year.) Winter was regarded in ancient times as a period of crisis, during which the deities of the upper world struggled against the spirits of chaos and evil to bring back light, warmth, and fertility.
Itís the birthday of poet and translator Kenneth Rexroth, born in South Bend, Indiana (1905). When he was 10, his mother was told her tuberculosis would let her live just another 2 months; he went along with her to buy her coffin, and was with her when she died. Three years later, his father died. The boy grew up in a tough part of Chicago, but had a rich artistic life. He discussed literature and politics at a salon of freethinkers often attended by Clarence Darrow and Sherwood Anderson, then became part-owner of a tearoom called the Green Mask Club, where Countee Cullen, Carl Sandburg and Langston Hughes read their poetry, and where jazz was playedand where, one night when radical talk and marijuana were circulating freely, he was arrested. After his release from jail, still in his teens, he fell in love with a social worker who was 10 years his senior, and followed her East to Smith College, then on to Greenwich Village. He taught himself Greek, read Plato and other classics, began translating Sapphoand then, with a Japanese primer, translated Oriental poetry. He traveled west, spoke for the Wobblies (International Workers of the World), and worked for the Forest Service in Washington State. An early backer of the Beat movement, he wrote poems that at first were heavily influenced by Surrealism but later grew shorter and tighter in form. He translated from Japanese, Chinese, Greek, Latin, and Spanish; his own collections include Bird in the Bush (1959), Assays (1962), and With Eye and Ear (1970).
Itís the birthday of American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, born in Head Tide, Maine (1869)who wrote short dramatic poems describing the people in a small New England village, ĎTilbury Town,í very like the place where he grew up. His best known poems are "Richard Cory," "Miniver Cheevy," and "For a Dead Lady."
Itís the birthday of composer Giacomo Puccini [JAH-kuh-mo poo-CHEE-nee], born in Lucca [LOO-kah], Tuscany (1858). In Pucciniís 4 greatest operas a moving love story unfoldsalways focusing on the female lead, and always ending tragically. These are La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1900), Madame Butterfly (1904), and Turandot [TOOR-nn-dot] (left incomplete at his death in 1924).
In 1849 on this day, 28-year-old Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who had been sentenced to death for belonging to a radical discussion group, was marched outside his jail cell to be shotand then, at the last moment, was told his sentence had been commuted to hard labor in Siberia, where he would remain for 10 years. He described it all in his novel The House of the Dead (1862).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®