Jul. 15, 2001


by Robert Morgan

SUNDAY, 15 JULY 2001
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Poem: "Hearth," by Robert Morgan from Topsoil Road (Louisiana State University Press).


Only the chimney is standing
at the houseplace in the meadow,
fieldstone set on fieldstone, flush,
and scored by rain and thaw of soot.

At the houseplace in the meadow
grass is rising in the fireplace, lush,
and scoured by rain and thaw of soot.
Licked by wind it leaps off the hearth,

grass rising in the fireplace lush,
and reaches up the chimney's throat;
licked by wind it leaps off the hearth,
kindling in the afternoon sun,

and reaches up the chimney's throat,
bending in the dance of rooted things,
kindling in the afternoon sun.
And bees have found a clover there

bending in the dance of rooted things
where the honey of flames was.
And bees have found a clover there
to sweeten the darkest parlor

where the honey of flames was,
fieldstone set on fieldstone, flush,
to sweeten the darkest parlor.
Only the chimney is standing.

It's the birthday of philosopher Jacques Derrida, born in El Biar, Algeria, in 1930, one of the founders of the theory of "deconstructionism," which he presented in the book Of Grammatology. It assumes that there is no common intellectual structure or source of meaning that unifies a culture. When applied to literary criticism, it holds that a single text can have multiple meanings, which underlie and subvert the surface meaning of the words.

It's the birthday of novelist Iris Murdoch, born in Dublin in 1919. She taught philosophy at Oxford and wrote novels about the complex relationship of good and evil, the illusion of free will, and the comedy of the sexes. Some of her novels include The Sea, the Sea, which won the Booker Prize, The Good Apprentice, and The Message to the Planet. Iris Murdoch once said, "One doesn't have to get anywhere in a marriage. It's not a public conveyance."

It's the birthday of mythologist Thomas Bulfinch, born in Newton, Massachusetts, in 1796, son of the great architect Charles Bulfinch. He got a classical education at private schools and Harvard, then he struggled for years as a small-businessman. At 41 he became a clerk in a Boston bank and remained there for the rest of his life, never advancing his position, but content because he had time for his true loves, literature and history. He wrote a number of books, including Hebrew Lyrical History, The Age of Chivalry, and Legends of Charlemagne that were moderately popular, but it was The Age of Fable, a retelling of the most important classical myths, that really distinguished him. Later known as Bulfinch's Mythology, it gave him financial security for the first time in his life. For decades, it was the principal means by which most Americans learned the Greek and Roman myths, making it one of the most influential books of the 19th century. Bulfinch never married, but lived with his parents, and then his siblings, all his life. He died in Boston at the age of 70, still working at the bank and still writing.

It's the birthday of professor and poet Clement Clarke Moore, born in New York City in 1779. He taught Oriental and Greek literature for 30 years at a seminary he helped found and wrote several scholarly books on religious subjects. His reputation today, however, rests on the poem he wrote in 1822 for his children, titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas," better known as "The Night Before Christmas." It appeared anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel. Recently, a Vassar professor, Don Foster, using computer-aided textual analysis, published a book called Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous, in which he claimed that the true author of the poem was a Revolutionary War hero named Henry Livingston, Jr.

It's the birthday of the artist Rembrandt, born Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn in Leiden, Netherlands, in 1606. He painted formal and informal portraits, Biblical and historical subjects, scenes from contemporary life, and many self-portraits as well.

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