Oct. 28, 2001

John Ruskin Considers the Nature of Water, Circa 1842

by Ralph Black

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Poem: "John Ruskin Considers the Nature of Water, Circa 1842," by Ralph Black from Turning Over The Earth (Milkweed Editions).

John Ruskin Considers the Nature of Water, Circa 1842

        A found poem from Ruskin's Modern Painters

Now the fact is
that there is hardly
a roadside pond or pool
which has not as much
landscape in it as above it.
It is not the dull,
muddy, brown thing
we suppose it to be;
it has a heart like ourselves,
and in the bottom of that
there are the boughs
of the tall trees, and the
blades of the shaking grass,
and all manner of hues,
of variable, pleasant light
out of the sky; nay,
the ugly gutter that stagnates
over the drain bars,
in the heart of the foul city,
is not altogether base;
down in that, if you will look
deep enough, you may see
the dark, serious blue
of far-off sky, and the passing
of pure clouds.

It's the birthday of poet and critic John Hollander, born in New York City (1929).  His first book of poetry, A Crackling of Thorns (1958), was chosen by W.H. Auden to receive the Yale Younger Poets Award.  He has since published nearly 30 volumes of his own poetry.  He has also edited a number of highly acclaimed anthologies of poetry, including three volumes of American Poetry (1994) for the Library of America.

It's the birthday of futurist Alvin Toffler, born in New York City (1928).  He's best known for two books written a decade apart, Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980).

It's the birthday of Irish-born painter Francis Bacon, born in Dublin, Ireland (1909).  He became famous in the art world in 1945 with an exhibition of his painting "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion."  The figures in the painting were tortured-looking half-human, half-animal forms perched on pedestals.  The painting established Bacon's reputation as a "master of the macabre." He claimed he was a realist in art, and liked to say, "You can't be more horrific than life itself."

It's the birthday of novelist Evelyn Waugh (Arthur St. John), born in London (1903).  Waugh made his reputation as a novelist for brilliant satires of upper-class British society, including Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), and Brideshead Revisited (1945).

It was on this day in 1886 that The Statue of Liberty was officially dedicated on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The statue was a gift to the American people from the people of France on the occasion of the Centennial in 1876.  The 151-foot high, 225-ton, copper statue was created by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who assembled the statue in France before it was disassembled and shipped to New York.  The pedestal for the statue was designed by American architect Richard Morris Hunt, and financed by subscriptions by American citizens.  A bronze plaque at the entrance to the pedestal contains an excerpt from the poem "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus: Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

It's the birthday of American geographer and educator Gilbert Grosvenor, born in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey (1875).  In February 1899, he was approached by his father's friend Alexander Graham Bell with the offer of a job as the assistant secretary of the National Geographic Society.  One of his duties in the job was to act as assistant editor of the National Geographic Magazine, which was then a highly technical journal that appealed only to professional geographers. Under Grosvenor, who became editor-in-chief in 1903, the magazine broadened its appeal to the general public, and became a pioneer in the use of color illustrations.

It's the birthday of abolitionist Levi Coffin, born in Greensboro, North Carolina (1789).  In 1821, he opened a Sunday school for slaves, which was soon closed by slave owners who were afraid of having their slaves educated.  He then moved to Indiana, where he made his home an important depot on the Underground Railroad.  More than three thousand fugitive slaves passed through his home on their way to freedom.

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