Dec. 15, 2001

Come, Look Quietly

by James Wright

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Poem: "Come, Look Quietly," by James Wright from Above the River: Complete Poems (Noonday Press).

Come, Look Quietly

    The bird on the terrace has his own name in French, but I don't
know it. He may be a nuthatch, only he doesn't eat upside down.
    He has a perfectly round small purple cap on his crown and a
slender long mask from his ears to his eyes all the way across. Come,
look quietly. All the way across Paris. Far behind the bird, the globes
of Sacre Coeur form out of the rain and fade again, all by themselves.
The daylight all across the city is taking its own time.
    The plump Parisian wild bird is scoring a light breakfast at the
end of December. He has found the last seeds left in tiny cones on
the outcast Christmas tree that blows on the terrace.

It's the birthday of Irish novelist Edna O'Brien, born in Twamgraney, County Clare, Ireland (1936). She grew up on a farm near a small village in the west of Ireland. There were about 200 people in the village, and everybody knew everyone else's business. She said: "I had sort of a limitless access to everyone's life story. For a writer, it's a marvelous chance." She went off to college in Dublin, where she got married and for the first time read James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. She said: "Reading it was the most astonishing literary experience of my life. What I learned was that as a writer one must take material from life, from the simple, indisputable, and often painful world about one, and give it somehow its transfiguration, but at the same time shave all excess and untruth from it, like peeling a willow. What I did not know, although I must have sensed it, was that this would bring me into conflict with parents, friends, and indeed the Irish establishment." Her first novel, The Country Girls (1960), was banned in Ireland because of its sexual scenes. The book broke new ground by giving an authentic voice to women in Irish fiction. The book formed a trilogy with her next two novels: The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Her most recent novel is Wild Decembers (2000).

It's the birthday of American playwright Maxwell Anderson, born in Atlantic, Pennsylvania (1888). He was working as a journalist in New York City when he was pegged by Laurence Stallings to collaborate on a play about WWI. The play, What Price Glory? (1924), was a hit, and launched Anderson's career on the stage. But what he really wanted to do was to write historical plays, in blank verse, that would have a contemporary relevance. What resulted was his successful verse drama Elizabeth the Queen (1930). He followed this with the Pulitzer Prize-winning satire Both Your Houses (1933), Winterset (1935), Key Largo (1939), Anne of a Thousand Days (1949), and The Bad Seed (1954). He also collaborated with composer Kurt Weill on Lost in the Stars (1949), and Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), he wrote the lyrics to the popular September Song: "Oh, it's a long long while/From May to December,/But the days grow short,/When you reach September.../Oh, the days dwindle down/To a precious few,/And these precious few days/I'll spend with you."

It's the birthday of linguist Ludwig Zamenhof, born in Bialystock, Poland (1859). As a Jew growing up in the multiethnic city of Bialystock, he noticed the barriers that were created between people by speaking different languages. He himself picked up languages quickly, but thought there would be more peace and understanding in the world if everyone spoke a common language. So, using pieces of all the languages his knew, he went about inventing one. The result was a book called An International Language (1887), which he published under the pen name "Dr. Esperanto." Eventually, "Esperanto" became the name of the language he created. It's now estimated that there are over two million Esperanto speakers worldwide.

It's the birthday of French engineer Gustave Eiffel, born in Dijon, France (1832). He specialized in building iron bridges. He was also called upon to created the iron framework for the Statue of Liberty. But his most famous work was the iron tower in Paris that bears his name, the Eiffel Tower (1889).

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