Dec. 21, 2000

When My Dead Father Called

by Robert Bly

Broadcast date: THURSDAY, 21 December 2000

Poem: “When My Dead Father Called,” by Robert Bly, from Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems (Harper Collins).

When My Dead Father Called

Last night I dreamt my father called to us.
He was stuck somewhere. It took us
A long time to dress, I don't know why.
The night was snowy; there were long black roads.

Finally we reached the little town, Bellingham.
There he stood, by a streetlamp in cold wind,
Snow blowing along the sidewalk. I noticed
The uneven sort of shoes that men wore

In the early Forties. And overalls. He was smoking.
Why did it take us so long to get going? Perhaps
He left us somewhere once, or did I simply \
Forget he was alone in winter in some town?

It's the winter solstice today, at 1:37 Greenwich Mean Time, the time when the sun is in its southernmost position in the heavens. That means that, in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the shortest day of the year.

At sunset tonight, Hanukkah begins, the first night of the eight-day holiday that celebrates Judas Maccabeus' victory, in 167 BC, over the Syrian-Greek King who had an altar to Zeus built in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Such desecration of the temple sparked a rebellion by Jewish nationalists. After their victory, the temple was cleansed and rededicated.

On this day in 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, the day after writing the first episode of Chapter 6 in The Last Tycoon, his unfinished novel about the movie business. He was 44 years old, and had been writing film scripts in Hollywood the previous 3 years. His plan had been for The Last Tycoon to be 60,000 words long—roughly as long as The Great Gatsby—but by the time of his death, he’d already written 70,000 words, and, judging by his outline, was only halfway through the story.

“The wise writer, I think, writes for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.”

It’s the birthday of novelist Heinrich Böll, born in Cologne, Germany (1917). He was drafted into the German army when he was 22, and suffered "the frightful fate of being a soldier and having to wish that the war might be lost." His most popular book was The Clown (1963). In 1971, he won the Nobel Prize for what the Nobel committee called "his most grandly conceived work," Group Portrait With Lady, a survey of German life over five decades.

On this day in 1913, Arthur Wynne published a tee-shaped word puzzle or 'word-cross' in the newspaper The New York World; twenty years later, crossword puzzles were in nearly every newspaper in the country.

It's the birthday of Anthony Powell, in Westminster, London (1905), sometimes called "the English Proust" because of his enormous 12 volume novel, A Dance To The Music of Time, a million words long. The series was published in two-year intervals from 1951 to 1975. Powell also wrote four volumes of memoirs and The Fisher King.

It's the birthday of novelist and journalist Dame Rebecca West, born Cecily Fairfield in County Kerry, Ireland (1892).

On this day in 1879, Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House premiered at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen with a different ending than Ibsen had intended. In Ibsen's original version, Nora leaves her husband and children at the end, but in this production, the leading lady wanted Nora to stay. She got her way.

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




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