Oct. 6, 2001

Sonnet: They May Not Mean To, But They Do

by Gavin Ewart

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Poem: "Sonnet: They May Not Mean To, But They Do," by Gavin Ewart from Selected Poems 1933-1988 (New Directions).

Sonnet: They May Not Mean To, But They Do

With his drunkenness, my father frightened me.
He was a sleeping volcano and I was over-awed,
for years I was hostile to any kind of authority
(although, as a child, I didn't know it was drunkenness).
Our mother, in opposition, was completely protective.
She was too kind, she did everything for us,
tempting my sisters to treat her like a servant.
This was bad for their characters, as my father was bad for mine.

So. Bad parents can make a child timid and unconfident.
Good parents can make a child bossy and uncaring.
These are the two moving rocks, the Scylla and Charybdis.
Many scrape through—but you can be unlucky.
My mother sacrificed herself, you could say, for her family.
My father sacrificed his family (me mainly) to himself.

Fall is apple season in many parts of the country, and there are apple festivals this weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Westin, Missouri; and Springfield, Vermont. In Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, it's an Apple Butter Festival.

It's the birthday of the Norwegian anthropologist and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, born in Larvik, Norway (1914). In 1941, he first published his theory that Polynesia had been colonized by immigrants who traveled from Peru on balsa rafts. To test his theory, he and five companions built a balsa raft and in 1947 made the 4,300-mile sea journey from Peru to Polynesia. The journey took 101 days. He wrote about the journey in his book Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft (1950). In 1970, based on his research into ancient Egyptian shipbuilding and navigation, he built a boat out of papyrus reeds and sailed it across the Atlantic from Morocco to Barbados. This proved that the trans-Atlantic sea voyage could have been made many centuries ahead of Columbus.

It's the birthday of author Elizabeth Gray Vining, born in Philadelphia (1902). She published her first book, Meredith's Ann in 1929, and received the Newbery Award in 1943 for her children's novel, Adam of the Road, about a boy's search for his father in medieval England. She was a Quaker, and was working for the American Friends Service Committee in 1946 when she was summoned to serve as an English tutor for Crown Prince Akihito of Japan. She wrote about her experiences in Japan in the 1952 bestseller, Windows for the Crown Prince.

It's the birthday of novelist and critic Caroline Gordon, born in Trenton, Kentucky (1895). As a girl, she studied the classics with her father, a schoolteacher who believed that Latin, Greek, and mathematics should be the basis of a good education. She went on to become a schoolteacher herself before her marriage to poet Alan Tate in 1924. Her first novel, Penhally, was published in 1931. Her other novels include The Garden of Adonis (1937), The Strange Children (1944), and The Glory of Hera (1972). She also wrote books of literary criticism, including How to Read a Novel (1957). Flannery O'Connor said of Gordon's writing: "You walk through her stories like you are walking in a complete real world. And watch how the meaning comes from the things themselves and not from her imposing anything."

On this day in 1536, William Tyndale was executed for heresy in Antwerp. In 1526, he published his English translation of the New Testament. It was the first English-language version of the Bible. When the book was sold in London, the authorities gathered up all the copies they could find and burned them. He published a new edition in 1535, and was at work on an English translation of the Old Testament when local authorities in Antwerp arrested him for spreading heresy. Tyndale's translation of the Bible soon received official approval in England, and became the basis of the King James Version.

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