Jan. 4, 2001

Smelling the Snow

by David Citino

Broadcast date: THURSDAY, 4 January 2001

Poem: "Smelling the Snow," by David Citino, from Broken Symmetry (Ohio State University Press).

Smelling the Snow

I've heard it said
there are those on such
close terms with night
they can smell the very light.

Not only does the moon,
they say, give off a scent
nothing like the sun's,
but old moon smells

sweeter than slivered new.
Monks of old claimed sin
took the breath away, while
God was wild onion, lilac, pine.

I know a carpenter who
boasts he can sniff out a maple
in a woodlot of ash and oak.
A stalking cat knows

the unsinging sparrow
from the finch. This day
as it returns to Ohio, like
some feathery creature

seeking the very moon and tree
where it was born,
I can smell the snow,
which seems to me,

against the dark trees
moving in slow procession,
a few birds stark and silent,
an essence close to love.

But any old fool can smell love.

On this day in 1960, French novelist and existential philosopher Albert Camus was killed in an automobile accident at Villeblerin, France, at the age of 46. His novels include The Plague (1947), and The Fall (1957). In 1957 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It's the birthday of English mathematician and physicist Sir Isaac Newton, born in Woolsthorpe, England (1643), inventor of Calculus. He solved many mysteries of physics involving light, optics, gravitation and motion. Newton himself always gave credit to his scientific predecessors for his achievements, and wrote in his journal, "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." When he was 50, Newton suffered a severe emotional disorder and turned from science, developing a passionate interest in mysticism and theology.

It's the birthday of Jakob Grimm, born in Hanau, Germany (1785). He was a scholar of linguistics and medieval literature, and he developed a definitive German Grammar (1819). Jakob and his younger brother Wilhelm, a literary critic and librarian, were both extremely fond of traditional German folktales: together they collected a comprehensive volume called Household Tales (1812). The collection was later expanded into the familiar Grimm's Fairy Tales (1857).

It's the birthday of musician and teacher of the blind, Louis Braille, born in Coupvray, France (1809). Braille was blinded in an accident at the age of three, and attended the Institute for the Young Blind in Paris, where he loved science and excelled in music. He became a respected organist and violoncellist in Paris music circles. In 1828, Braille returned to the Institute as an instructor for the blind, and a year later conceived his idea for the Braille System of reading, writing and musical notation, a system of raised dots embossed in paper to indicate letters, numbers and punctuation.

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