Dec. 22, 2001

1593 There came a Wind like a Bugle --

by Emily Dickinson

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Poem: "There came a Wind like a Bugle," by Emily Dickinson.

There came a Wind like a Bugle

There came a Wind like a Bugle-
It quivered through the Grass
And a Green Chill upon the Heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the Windows and the Doors
As from an Emerald Ghost-
The Doom's electric Moccasin
That very instant passed-
On a strange Mob of panting Trees
And Fences fled away
And Rivers where the Houses ran
Those looked that lived-that Day-
The Bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings told-
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the World!

It was on this day in 1945 that Private Kurt Vonnegut Jr., a battalion scout with the 106th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, was captured during the Battle of the Bulge. He and his fellow prisoners were billeted in a slaughterhouse, and put to work in a factory producing malt syrup for pregnant women. About six weeks after their capture, they took refuge in an underground meat locker during the firebombing of Dresden, and afterwards were put to work removing corpses from air raid shelters. He later used the experience as the basis for his novel Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

It's the birthday of poet Kenneth Rexroth, born in South Bend, Indiana (1905), descended from a long line of socialists, suffragettes, and abolitionists. Expelled from high school, he hung around bohemian clubs, eventually investing a small inheritance in one, and met Chicago figures such as Clarence Darrow, Sherwood Anderson, Ben Hecht, and Carl Sandburg. He began to publish regularly after moving to San Francisco, where he participated in the Federal Writers Project. In the 1950s he published more than a dozen volumes of poetry, translations, and essays, and became forever linked with the Beat movement when, in 1955, he was emcee for Allen Ginsberg's first public reading of Howl. He was arrogant and abrasive—one critic called him "an old-fashioned American sorehead."

It's the birthday of poet Edwin Arlington Robinson, born in Head Tide, Maine (1869). He was a laconic man, perfectly suited to poetry, who once said that "there are too many words in prose, and they take up altogether too much room." His best known poems are "Richard Cory," "Miniver Cheevy," "The Wandering Jew," and "Mr. Flood's Party."

It's the birthday of composer Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca, Italy (1858). His first great success was Manon Lescaut (1893), which he followed with Tosca (1896), La Boheme (1900), and Madame Butterfly (1904).

It's the birthday of author and activist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1823). As a young minister fresh out of the Harvard Divinity School, he preached abolition and women's rights to his Unitarian congregation and was fired after two years. He helped fugitive slaves escape and broke down a courthouse door attempting to rescue the captured slave, Anthony Burns. During the Civil War, he commanded the first federally authorized black regiment, the First South Carolina Volunteers, made up of freed slaves. In articles in The Atlantic, he encouraged young women writers. In response, Emily Dickinson sent him four poems, beginning a correspondence that lasted for 24 years. They met only twice. After the first meeting, Higginson reported that she talked "continuously ... and seemed to speak absolutely for her own relief, and wholly without watching its effect upon her hearer." He told her that her verse was "spasmodic," tried to get her to clean up what he called its "irregularities." He encouraged her to write, but advised her not to publish, saying she wasn't ready. After her death, he was persuaded to help edit her poems, and after looking them over again, wrote to his co-editor, "I am astounded ... How could we have ever doubted them?" He edited two volumes of them, and enthusiastically reviewed a third.

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