Dec. 28, 2001


by W. S. Merwin

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Poem: "Talking," by W.S. Merwin from Flower & Hand Poems 1977-1983 (Copper Canyon Press).


Whatever I talk about is yesterday
by the time I see anything it is gone
the only way I can see today
is as yesterday

I talk with words I remember
about what has already happened
what I want to talk about is no longer there
it is not there

today I say only what I remember
even when I am speaking of today
nobody else remembers what I remember
not even the same names

I tell parts of a story
that once occurred
and I laugh with surprise at what disappeared
though I remember it so well

It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Ian Buruma, born in The Hague (1951). He has written about Asian cultures and countries for such publications as The New York Times, Harper's, and the Economist. His first book, published in 1984, established him as an expert in Eastern culture. His next book, God's Dust (1989), included portraits of countries like Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore, and examined the many differences—and similarities—between Western materialism and Asian tradition.

It's the birthday of novelist Charles Portis, born in El Dorado, Arkansas (1926). He was the London correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune from 1960 to 1964, when he left to write fiction. His first novel, Norwood (1966), received some notice, but it was his second book, True Grit (1968), that brought him critical and popular success. It's the story of an Arkansas 14-year-old named Mattie Ross who wants to avenge the murder of her father. She enlists the aid of Rooster Cogburn, a washed-out but still tough United States marshal.

It's the birthday of novelist Manuel Puig, born in Vallegas, Argentina (1932). His first novel, published in English in 1971, was Betrayed by Rita Hayworth, which was a recounting of movie-going as a way of life in rural Argentina. Two years later, when Juan Perón returned to power in Argentina, Puig went into self-imposed exile in the United States, Brazil and Mexico, and wrote his best-known novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman (1979).

It's the birthday of novelist Simon Raven, born in London (1927). He is best known for his 10-novel series, called Alms for Oblivion (1959-1976).

It's the birthday of author and actor Sam Levenson, born in New York City (1911). He said: "Insanity is hereditary. You get if from your children," and "Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we'll find it."

It's the birthday of philosopher, educator, and author Mortimer J. Adler, born in New York City (1902), who, throughout his lifetime, advocated the reading of great books as the best way to learn. He studied philosophy, became an instructor at Columbia University, and then, in 1931, became professor of the philosophy of law at the University of Chicago. He published several books, and then, in 1952, the concept of his seminars on great books and great ideas came together in the 52-volume Great Books of the Western World, published by the Encyclopedia Britannica Company. He did not like the multi-track system of American education, where students are divided according to their abilities. He felt that offering a single program for all students would upgrade the curriculum to serve the needs of the brightest students and bring up the achievements of the less advantaged.

In 1732 on this day, Benjamin Franklin published the first issue of Poor Richard's Almanack, published under the name of Richard Saunders. Some of those instructions included proverbs like: "A penny saved is a penny earned," "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of," "Fish and visitors smell in three days," and "Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today."

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