Tuesday

Oct. 23, 2001

Mystery

by C. G. Hanzlicek

TUESDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2001
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Poem: "Mystery," by C.G. Hanzlicek from The Cave: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press).

Mystery
    The self is no mystery, the mystery is
    That there is something for us to stand on.
    —George Oppen

There are no guardrails at Canyon de Chelly.
On the very edge
Of the great brow of rock,
I suffered a vertigo
That tied me forever to the earth.
I want to be here,
With the oak floors creaking under me,
And outside, among the flowers,
Where the columbine
Sensibly dies back upon itself
In the first freeze.
The mysteries are all here:
Roots, the leaves turning,
The spiders hard at their geometry lessons,
The seed that obeys perfectly
Its own limits,
The worms turning among the leaves,
Turning the leaves to compost,
Dung beetle and bottle fly,
The fluting of the white-crowned sparrow,
The shrill cries
Of the flickers, newly arrived,
The dog at his dreams,
The airiness of the dogwood,
The heaviness of the cork oak,
And the Bradford pear,
Burning its deepest reds like a candle flame,
And the sun, most mysterious,
Will be almost that red
Just before setting this evening.
The muddiness of the self
Can be forgiven, almost forgotten,
In the clarity of late October.

It's the anniversary of the publication of Sinclair Lewis's novel, Main Street, first published by Harcourt, Brace and Howe on this date in 1920. The novel was denied a Pulitzer Prize in 1921 because it offended the sensibilities of Midwestern critics with its unflattering portrayal of life in the small town of Gopher City, MinnesotaLewis, a native of Sauk Center, Minnesota, was eventually awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for his novel Arrowsmith, but he declined the honor.

It's the birthday of English poet Robert Seymour Bridges, born in Walmer, Kent (1844).  While a student at Oxford, Bridges became a friend of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.  In 1918, Bridges published an edition of Hopkins' poetry, which rescued Hopkins from obscurity and established his reputation.  Bridges himself began his career as a physician in London, but gave up his practice in 1882 to devote himself to poetry.  His own books of poetry include October and Other Poems (1920) and The Testament of Beauty (1929).

It's the birthday of the celebrated French actress Sarah Bernhardt, "The Divine Sarah," born Henriette-Rosine Bernard, in Paris (1844). In the 1880s, she was the most famous and sought-after actress in Europe and the Americas.  Audiences were captivated by her "golden voice," her passionate acting, and by rumors of her extravagant lifestyle, which included an alleged affair with the Prince of Wales.  During a rehearsal of a play by Oscar Wilde, she and the playwright got into a heated argument over the interpretation of her role.  At one point, Wilde took out a cigarette and asked, "Do you mind if I smoke, madame?" She snapped back, "I don't care if you burn."

It's the birthday of bibliographer John Russell Bartlett, born in Providence, Rhode Island (1805).  He served as secretary of state of Rhode Island and as a border commissioner in Texas, but his greatest contribution was his Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States (1848).  The dictionary is full of words that are still in common usage, like "accountability," "blackmail," and "caucus."  Other words and phrases in the dictionary are less common, like the phrase "catawamptiously chawed up," which Bartlett defines as "completely demolished," before writing it off as "one of the ludicrous monstrosities in which the vulgar language of the Southern and Western states abounds."

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