Dec. 31, 2001

Year's End

by Richard Wilbur

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Poem: "Year's End," by Richard Wilbur from New and Collected Poems (Harcourt Brace & Company).

Year's End

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I've known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

It's the birthday of French painter Henri Matisse, born in 1869 in Le Cateau, France. He'd intended to be a lawyer, and studied law and passed the Paris law exams by 1888, but he was incredibly bored by it. When he was 21, his appendix burst and he was hospitalized for a while—and he tried painting while he was recovering. Soon afterward, he studied art in Paris. He said: "What interests me most is neither still life nor landscape, but the human figure. It is through it that I best succeed in expressing the almost religious feeling I have towards life."

It's the birthday of songwriter and composer Jule Styne, born in London in 1905, the author of some of Broadway and pop-music's best-known songs, like "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow," and "Everything's Coming Up Roses," which he said was probably the best thing he'd ever written. He composed the scores for the Broadway shows Gypsy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Funny Girl, and with lyricist Sammy Cahn he co-wrote many hits for his friend, Frank Sinatra, in the 1940s. Styne was an accomplished pianist by age eight, when he began studying at the Chicago College of Music and performing with symphony orchestras. But his hopes of being a concert pianist were dashed at age 13 by his piano teacher, the pianist Harold Bauer, who told him he'd never be successful at it because his hands were too small. He did play professionally in his teens and 20s, mostly in clubs and with jazz groups, and in 1926 he composed the song "Sunday" to impress a girl—it became his first big hit.

It was on this day in 1935 that the game Monopoly was patented by Charles Darrow, an unemployed engineer in Germantown, Pennsylvania. There was a game at the time, about 30 years old, called The Landlord's Game, which had a lot of the familiar Monopoly features like a "Go to Jail" square and utilities and properties for purchase. With his free time, Darrow modified it, basing his rental properties on his favorite resort town, Atlantic City.

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