Dec. 12, 2001

Time, Place, and Parenthood

by Hayden Carruth

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Poem: "Time, Place, and Parenthood," by Hayden Carruth from Doctor Jazz (Copper Canyon Press).

Time, Place, and Parenthood

Here we are, my son, aliens in this place
That seems so remote from our origin among
The superb slopes and deep valleys of the Green
Mountains, only a day's drive to the east.
Most people nowadays think aliens
Must come from Mars, and indeed sometimes
I feel remarkably Martian, so apparent
Are even the little distinctions of time and place
To me in my old age. And sometimes also
You now in your maturity of body and mind,
Your handsome strength, seem so distinct from
The four-year-old boy who rode beside me
In our pickup over the mountains, or the six-
Year-old who built the hut under the roots
Of the half-washed-out hemlock by the brook,
That I can recall you only as in a faded
Photograph from another country. But no,
It isn't true, not for more than an instant. I still
Remember you clinging in my arms as we ran
Down the tilt of Marshall's pasture, or holding
My hand as we entered the little post office
In our old town, so loving, so loyal. In these,
My son, you have been constant; almost four
Decades later you are the same. My son—
My Bo, my David—my man now in this world—
Accept these words that can never say enough.

It's the birthday of British playwright John Osborne, born in London (1929). He changed the face of contemporary British theater with his first London production, Look Back in Anger (1956). Up until that time, the British stage had been dominated by light and witty drawing room comedies by the likes of Terence Rattigan and Noel Coward. Osborne's play was set in a slightly squalid, working-class flat, and introduced a new kind of character, "the angry young man" who rebels against the respectable smugness of society.

It's the birthday of novelist Patrick O'Brian, born in London (1914). He was born Richard Patrick Russ, to an English family, but later claimed that he was an Irish Catholic born in Galway. For half a century, however, he lived in a small fishing village in the south of France, writing novels about the British naval officer Jack Aubrey and his friend the Irish-Catalan physician and spy, Stephen Maturin. The first Aubrey-Maturin novel, Master and Commander, was published in 1969. It wasn't until 20 years later that the novels began to appear in America, where they soon claimed a perennial place on the bestseller lists.

It's the birthday of Russian revolutionary and philosopher Peter Kropotkin, born in Moscow (1842). Tired of czarist oppression in his homeland, he went to Belgium in 1872 and joined the revolutionary First International Working Men's Association. He returned to Russia, was arrested, escaped, and fled first to Switzerland and then to France. He spent three years in a French prison for anarchist activities, then settled in England, where he became a leading figure in the international anarchist movement. While living in England, he wrote Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899), and his most important work, Mutual Aid (1902), in which he argued that the advancement of society was possible only through cooperation, not through competition. After the czar was overthrown in 1917, he returned to his homeland. He was unhappy with the results of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.

It's the birthday of French novelist Gustave Flaubert, born in Rouen, France (1821). His father was a highly respected surgeon, but he chose instead to study law. At 22, however, a diagnosis of epilepsy made him give up his legal studies and devote himself to literature. His most famous book was Madame Bovary (1857), about the infidelity of a respectable country doctor's wife. He spent five years working on the novel. When it was published, he was brought to trial and narrowly escaped conviction on charges of immorality. His other novels include Salammbô (1862), The Sentimental Education (1869), and The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1874). In Madame Bovary, he wrote: "There isn't a bourgeois alive who in the ferment of his youth, if only for a day or for a minute, hasn't thought himself capable of boundless passions and noble exploits. The sorriest little woman-chaser has dreamed of Oriental queens; in a corner of every notary's heart lie the moldy remains of a poet."

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