Wednesday

Mar. 7, 2001

The Lesson

by Edward Lucie-Smith

WEDNESDAY, 7 March 2001
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Poem: "The Lesson," by Edward Lucie-Smith, from A Tropical Childhood & Other Poems (Oxford University Press).

The Lesson

'Your father's gone,' my bald headmaster said.
His shiny dome and brown tobacco jar
Splintered at once in tears. It wasn't grief.
I cried for knowledge which was bitterer
Than any grief. For there and then I knew
That grief has its uses—that a father dead
Could bind the bully's fist a week or two;
And then I cried for shame, then for relief.

I was a month past ten when I learnt this:
I still remember how the noise was stilled
In school-assembly when my grief came in
Some goldfish in a bowl quietly sculled
Around their shining prison on its shelf.
They were indifferent. All the other eyes
Were turned towards me. Somewhere in myself
Pride, like a goldfish, flashed a sudden fin.

It's the birthday of Norwegian poet Rolf Jacobsen, born in Oslo (1907), considered the first truly modern Norwegian poet.  He was a socialist before World War II, but grew disenchanted with leftist policies and, during the war, signed editorials supporting the German occupation of Norway.  The extent of his collaboration with the Nazis is still debated.  The point is made, for example, that he never informed on anyone, never embraced the racist elements of Nazism, and never joined in the cult of the Führer. Nonetheless, after the war he was convicted of treason and sentenced to 3-1/2 years at hard labor.  Following his release, he settled in Hamar, 60 miles north of Oslo, and worked as a bookseller for 10 years. At 43 he converted to Catholicism (1950), and he continued to write well into old age.  His 12 collections include Secret Life (1954), The Silence Afterwards (1965) and Night Watch (1985). 

It's the birthday of composer Maurice Ravel, born in Ciboure, France (1875).  A private income allowed him the luxury of working slowly and steadily, turning out one polished composition a year.

It's the birthday of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, born in Amersfoort, Holland (1872).  He began by painting representational images, but grew steadily more abstract.  At 40 he moved to Paris and adopted a cubist style for 5 years; when he moved to New York (1940), he replaced his austere black lines with colored bands broken by colored rectangles.

It's the birthday of plant breeder Luther Burbank, born in Lancaster, Massachusetts (1849), and reared on a farm.  Influenced by the writing of Darwin, he developed the Burbank potato.  Then he moved to Santa Rosa, California, and established his famous greenhouse and farm where he developed over 800 strains and varieties of plants, including plums,  prunes, berries, and 50 varieties of lilies.

On this day in 1838, coloatura soprano Jenny Lind, "the Swedish nightingale," made her Stockholm debut in Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz (The Free Shooter) at the age of 18.

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