Thursday

May 3, 2001

A Light Left On

by May Sarton

THURSDAY, 3 May 2001
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Poem: "A Light Left On," by May Sarton, from Collected Poems (W.W. Norton).

A Light Left On

In the evening we came back
Into our yellow room,
For a moment taken aback
To find the light left on,
Falling on silent flowers,
Table, book, empty chair
While we had gone elsewhere,
Had been away for hours.

When we came home together
We found the inside weather.
All of our love unended
The quiet light demanded,
And we gave, in a look
At yellow walls and open book.
The deepest world we share
and do not talk about
But have to have, was there,
And by that light found out.

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Cohen, born in the Bronx, New York (1919). She took the name Betty Comden, and, along with her partner Adolph Green, wrote many, many Broadway hits. They worked with Leonard Bernstein to create On the Town (1944) and Wonderful Town (1953); with Jule Styne on Peter Pan (1954), Bells Are Ringing (1956), Subways Are For Sleeping (1961); and they wrote the screenplay for Singin' in the Rain (1952).

It's the birthday of folk singer Pete Seeger, born in New York City (1919). He learned to play the banjo and ukulele as a boy and dropped out of Harvard University to travel around the country, hitchhiking and hopping freight trains, building his huge repertoire of folk songs.

It's the birthday of playwright William Inge, born in Independence, Kansas (1913). He was a drama critic for the Star Times in St. Louis, but after seeing Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, he decided to become a playwright. His second play, Come Back, Little Sheba, was a hit in 1950. He also wrote Picnic (1953), Bus Stop (1955), and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957).

It's the birthday of poet and novelist May Sarton, born in Wondelgem, Belgium (1912). She was very prolific, producing nearly 50 volumes of fiction, poetry, and memoir. Her parents fled the German invasion during World War I and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At 17, she moved to New York City. At 19, she went over to Europe, and while there, had an affair with the biologist Julian Huxley - and then had another affair with Huxley's wife, Juliette. Sarton's novel Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965) was referred to as her "coming-out novel," but she disliked being pigeonholed as a lesbian writer. She thought of herself as a poet, once saying, "When you're a poet, you're a poet first."

It's the birthday of journalist and reformer Jacob Riis, born in Ribe, Denmark (1849). He came to America looking for work as a carpenter, then started working as a reporter. Within a few years, he bought the struggling South Brooklyn News and transformed it into a profitable reform journal. At the New York Tribune, he exposed the terrible conditions of the slums. He was one of the first photojournalists, taking pictures of slum life, which he published in How the Other Half Lives (1890).

It's the birthday of Niccolo Machiavelli, born in Florence, Italy (1469). After the Medicis came to power, he was exiled from the city. He lived on a small farm and wrote The Prince (1513), in which he advocated the concentration of power in one ruler, and the use of it in any way possible, no matter how treacherous, to establish and strengthen the state.

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