Dec. 17, 2000

Snowbound (excerpt)

by John Greenleaf Whittier

Broadcast date: SUNDAY, 17 December 2000

Poem: lines from “Snowbound,” by John Greenleaf Whittier.


The sun that brief December day
Rose cheerless over hills of grey,
And darkly circled, gave at noon,
A sadder light than waning moon.
Slow tracing down the thickening sky
Its mute and ominous prophecy,
A portent seeming less than threat,
It sank from sight before it set.
A chill, no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out...

Meanwhile we did our nightly chores,—
Brought in the wood from out of doors,
Littered the stalls, and from the mows
Raked down the herd's— grass for the cows.....

Unwarmed by any sunset light
The grey day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
and whirl dance of the blinding storm,
As zig-zag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wingèd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window frame,
and through the glass the clothes-line posts
looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts....

And when the second morning shone,
We looked upon a world unknown,
On nothing we could call our own.
Around the glistening wonder bent
The blue walls of firmament,
No cloud above, no earth below,—
A universe of sky and snow!....

It is the birthday of journalist William Safire, born in New York City (1929), who writes the “On Language” column for the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

It is the birthday of art critic Calvin Tomkins, born in Orange, New Jersey (1925). He was a writer for the New Yorker for many years, and is the author of Living Well is the Best Revenge (1971), a short book about Gerald and Sara Murphy.

It is the birthday of chemist Willard Frank Libby, born in Grand Valley, Colorado (1908). He won the 1960 Nobel prize in chemistry for developing the technique of radioactive carbon dating.

On this day in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew the first self-propelled, heavier-than-air craft at Kill Devil Hills, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville made the first flight, staying aloft for 12 seconds. Wilbur flew the longest that day: 852 feet in 59 seconds.

It is the birthday of novelist Erskine Caldwell, born in White Oak, Georgia (1903), author of Tobacco Road (1932), and God’s Little Acre (1933).

It is the birthday of Ford Maddox Ford, born in Merton, Surrey, England (1873). He was editor of The Transatlantic Review, and published work by James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. As a writer he’s best known for his novel The Good Soldier (1915), and his tetralogy Parade’s End, which came out in the 20s.

On this day in 1843, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published. Desperate for money, he wrote the story in six weeks, from the middle of October to the end of November. The first printing of 6,000 copies sold out as soon as they were delivered. The book gave the language a new term: Scrooge, which now means someone who is bitter and unpleasant during the holidays. Dickens said, “I was very much affected by the little book myself, and was reluctant to lay it aside for a moment.”

It’s the birthday of poet John Greenleaf Whittier born in Haverhill, Massachusetts (1807). His nostalgic poem “Snowbound” (1866) brought him national recognition, and provided him with $10,000, ending his life of poverty.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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