May 12, 2001


by Lisel Mueller

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Poem: "Romantics," by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems (Louisiana State University).

Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann

The modern biographers worry
"how far it went," their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone's eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address, not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving nothing to overhear.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Rosellen Brown, born in Philadelphia (1939). She's the author of Tender Mercies (1978), Before and After (1992), and other books.

On this day in 1935, in Akron, Ohio, the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous took place: two alcoholics, trying to overcome their drinking problem. The two were William Griffith Wilson, who later became known as "Bill W." and Robert Holbrook Smith, later known as "Dr. Bob S." They began to help other people get sober, and in 1939 published their basic textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous, which explained the group's philosophy - the core of which is the now well-known Twelve Step method.

It's the birthday of author Farley Mowat, born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada (1921). He's published more than 30 books, many of them about the environment, including The People of the Deer (1952), and Never Cry Wolf (1963).

It's the birthday of actress Katharine Hepburn, born in Hartford, Connecticut (1907). Two days after she graduated from Bryn Mawr College, she went to work in a summer stock acting troupe in Baltimore. She made her Broadway debut when she was 21 and her Hollywood debut when she was 25, in film called A Bill of Divorcement (1932).

It's the birthday of soprano Lillian Nordica, born in Farmington, Maine (1857). She was the first American to make a great success in opera in Europe, singing Violetta in La Traviata in Milan; and she was the first American to perform in Lohengrin, at Bayreuth.

It's the birthday of painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, born in London, England (1828). He formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with six other painter friends.

It's the birthday of landscape painter and nonsense poet Edward Lear, born in Highgate, England (1812). He suffered from epilepsy and depression most of his life. For four years he lived on the estate of the Earl of Derby; he drew the birds there, and, for the Earl's grandchildren, he wrote a collection of limericks and nonsense poems, which came out in 1846.

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