Dec. 12, 2000

This Error is the Sign of Love (excerpt)

by Lewis Hyde

Broadcast date: TUESDAY, 12 December 2000

Poem: lines from “This Error is the Sign of Love,” by Lewis Hyde, from This Error is the Sign of Love (Milkweed Editions).

This Error is the Sign of Love

Man has to seek God in error and
forgetfulness and foolishness. —Meister Eckhart

This error is the sign of love,
the crack in the ice where the otters breathe,
the tear that saves a man from power,
the puff of smoke blown down the chimney one morning, and the
   widower sighs and gives up his loneliness,
the lines transposed in the will so the widow must scatter
   coins from the cliff instead of ashes and she marries
   again, for love,
the speechlessness of lovers that forces them to leave it alone
   while it sends up its first pale shoot like an onion
   sprouting in the pantry,
this error is the sign of love.

The leak in the nest, the hole in the coffin,
the crack in the picture plate a young girl fills with her
   secret life to survive the grade school,
the retarded twins who wander house to house, eating,
    'til the neighbors have become neighbors.
The teacher's failings in which the students ripen,
Luther's fit in the choir, Darwin's dyspepsia, boy children
   stuttering in the gunshop,
boredom, shyness, bodily discomforts like long rows of white
   stones at the edge of the highway,
blown head gaskets, darkened choir lofts, stolen kisses,
this error is the sign of love.

The nickel in the butter churn, the farthing in the cake,
the first reggae rhythms like seasonal cracks in a government
the rain-damaged instrument that taught us the melodies of black
   emotion and red and yellow emotion,
the bubble of erotic energy escaped from a marriage and a week
   later the wife dreams of a tiger,
the bee that flies into the guitar and hangs transfixed in the
   sound of sound 'til all his wetness leaves him
   and he rides that high wind to the Galapagos,
this error is the sign of love.

The fault in the sea floor where the fish linger and mate,
the birthmark that sets the girl apart and years later she alone
   of the sisters finds her calling,
Whitman's idiot brother whom he fed like the rest of us,
those few seconds Bréton fell asleep and dreamed of a pit of sand
   with the water starting to flow,
the earth's wobbling axis uncoiling seasons—seeds that need
   six months of drought, flowers shaped for the tongues
   of moths, summertime
and death's polarized light caught beneath the surface
   of Florentine oils,
this error is the sign of love.

The beggar buried in the cathedral,
the wisdom-hole in the façade of the library,
the corners of the garden that are not harvested,
the hail storm in a South Dakota town that started the
   Farmers' Cooperative in 1933,
the Sargasso Sea that gives false hope to sailors and they sail
   on and find a new world,
the picnic basket that slips overboard and leads to the invention
   of the lobster trap,
the one slack line in a poem where the listener relaxes
   and suddenly the poem is in your heart like a fruit
   wasp in an apple,
this error is the sign of love!

It’s the birthday of Canadian playwright Robert Lepage, born in Québec City, Canada (1957). He’s the author of many plays, including Circulations (1984), which uses alternating French and English dialogue as the main character moves back and forth between Québec and New York City.

"The theater should be like the Olympics, about human beings trying to be like gods. It is an Olympic place where you see people pretending to fly, trying to achieve things beyond their capability, and where you witness their falls.”

It is the birthday of playwright John Osborne, born in London, England (1929). His third play, Look Back in Anger (1956) shocked audiences, and began a new wave of English drama, often referred to as the “angry young man” school of playwriting. The play’s main character, Jimmy Porter, is an intellectual working class guy, angry at the establishment, who ruins his life with bitterness. Sir Laurence Olivier was so impressed with the play that he commissioned Osborne to write a part for him. The result was The Entertainer (1957), in which Olivier played the third rate, music-hall comedian, Archie Rice.

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp post what it thinks about dogs.”

It is the birthday of American playwright, screenplay writer, and attorney Howard Koch, born in New York City (1902). With Orson Welles, he created the radio script for The War of The Worlds (1938), performed by Welles and the Mercury Theater players to a huge audience that actually believed the world was being invaded by Martians. He also wrote the screenplay for Casablanca (1943), which won him an Academy Award.

On this day in 1897, The Katzenjammer Kids, Fritz and Hans, first appeared in the New York Journal. The Rudolf Dirks comic strip became one of the longest running ever produced.

It is the birthday of French novelist Gustave Flaubert in Rouen, France (1821). His father and brother were both doctors, and Gustave was considered the family dunce: he failed his law exams, and suffered a nervous breakdown after the experience. After recuperating for a year, he received an allowance from his father and dedicated himself to writing. He wrote very, very slowly, reading sentence by sentence out loud for cadence and word choice. It took him six years to complete his masterpiece, Madame Bovary (1857). The book was impounded before reaching bookstores on the grounds of obscenity, since the book’s main character had committed both adultery and suicide. The furor, of course, made the book incredibly popular, and it remains so today.

It is the birthday of poet and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, born in Newburyport, Massachusetts (1805). He was one of the leaders of the anti-slavery movement, and the founder of the weekly newspaper The Liberator, which ran continuously for 35 years beginning in 1831.

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