Tuesday

Sep. 18, 2001

The Last Words of My English Grandmother

by William Carlos Williams

TUESDAY, 18 SEPTEMBER 2001
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Poem: "The Last Words of My English Grandmother," by William Carlos Williams from Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams (New Directions).

The Last Words of My English Grandmother

There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed—

Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat—
They're starving me—
I'm all right I won't go
to the hospital. No, no, no

Give me something to eat
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.
She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please—

Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher—
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear—
Oh you think you're smart
you young people,

she said, but I'll tell you
you don't know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I'm tired
of them and rolled her head away.

It's the birthday of physicist Jean Bernard Leon Foucault, born in Paris (1819). Foucault made many important discoveries, but one of the best known is the development of the Foucault pendulum, with which he demonstrated the rotation of the earth. In 1851, Foucault presented his pendulum at the Pantheon in Paris. He suspended a 61-pound iron ball from a 220-foot cable. He attached a pin to the bottom of the ball, which traced the path of the ball in a ring of sand on the floor. Even though the pendulum seems to rotate with respect to the floor, there is no force to make it rotate. Therefore, it is the floor, and by extension the earth, which is rotating. Foucault was also the first scientist to photograph the sun. He invented the gyroscope, proved that light travels slower in water than in air, and proved that humans have binocular vision, which means that the brain combines images from both eyes into a single image.

It's the birthday of poet, journalist, critic, and lexicographer Samuel Johnson, born in Lichfield, England (1709). Johnson finally found work writing for a popular periodical, the Gentleman's Magazine, for which he wrote poetry, essays, and short biographies. His 1749 biography of a minor poet and major scoundrel, Richard Savage, achieved considerable popularity. From 1750 to 1752, he published a semi-weekly series of essays called The Rambler. In 1755, he published what was to be his greatest work, A Dictionary of the English Language, for which he was paid the huge sum of £1,575. It was immensely popular, due largely to the immense number of quotations illustrating different usages of words, culled from his own reading. In 1763, Johnson met his future biographer, the Scottish lawyer James Boswell. Ten years later, the two men made a tour of the Scottish Highlands, which Johnson chronicled in his book, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1875). After Johnson's death in 1784, Boswell wrote his biography. It was an immediate success, and confirmed Johnson's reputation as one of England's most famous characters, conversationalists, and wits. Samuel Johnson, who said: "The great source of pleasure is variety. Uniformity must tire at last, though it be uniformity of excellence. We love to expect; and, when expectation is disappointed or gratified, we want to be again expecting."

In 1851 on this day, the first edition of The New York Times was published. The paper, which was then called the New York Daily Times, was in competition with 15 other newspapers in the New York City area. The cost of the paper was one cent, and by its second week, it had 10,000 regular paying customers. In 1857, the name of the paper was changed to The New York Times.

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