Sunday

May 12, 2002

The Instrument

by Robert Winner

SUNDAY, 12 MAY 2002
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Poem: "The Instrument," by Robert Winner from The Sanity of Earth and Grass (Tilbury House).

The Instrument

I've seen the mahogany grow pale
under the huge shoulders of pianists,
the curved beams brace themselves.

Such an army, so many games of chess
on the infinity of the keyboard, so much
access and self-disclosure…

It's like climbing in a forest
formed by your own hands, or singing
with your armpits, groin and heels…
it's playing Mozart in the Amazon
to a naked wondering people.

Music-the world that might be,
and yet the world as it is. The heart
comes out of hiding, saying to us:
"Listen, you can say anything you want now.
Here is the instrument."


On this day in 1978, the Commerce Department, which oversees the National Weather Service, announced that hurricanes would no longer be named exclusively for women.

It's the birthday of Rosellen Brown, born in Philadelphia (1939). She's the author of five novels, including Tender Mercies and Before and After. She writes with great tenderness about families wrestling with unexpected calamities. Her novels sometimes start with catastrophic events that take place offstage. When asked why, she said it was because she was "lousy" at plotting, and had to kick-start her novels by "giving her characters something to respond to."

It's the birthday of Farley Mowat, born in Belleville, Ontario (1921). He's written over thirty books, many of them accounts of his experiences in the Canadian wilderness, including Never Cry Wolf.

It's the birthday of Jiddu Krishnamurti, born in Andhra Pradesh, India (1895). He was adopted while still a young boy by Annie Besant, the head of the Theosophical Society in India, who groomed him for a career as the World Teacher the Theosophists had predicted would come to save the world. When he was thirty-four, he gave a speech in front of three thousand people in which he announced that no religious organization or teacher could lead to the truth. "If you are very clear," he said later, "if you are inwardly light unto yourself, you will never follow anyone." At the height of his popularity, his admirers included Bertrand Russell, Thomas Mann, Igor Stravinsky and Bertolt Brecht.

It's the birthday of the painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, born in London (1828). When Rossetti was an art student, the rules of painting were fixed: "The student was to paint in a Raphaelesque, but yet original manner: that is to say, he was to try to do something very clever, all out of his own head, but yet this clever something was to have a principal light occupying one-seventh of its space, and a principal shadow occupying one-third of the same." Rossetti and his friends William Holman Hunt and John Millais despised the Raphaelesque rules, and they began to call themselves Pre-Raphaelites. They vowed to paint real models in real poses, even if they looked awkward, and to paint heroes from myths and legends instead of painting sailboats and cows.

It's the birthday of Father Louis Hennepin, born in Belgium (1626). He was the first to describe Niagara Falls, and served as historian for LaSalle when the explorer crossed the Great Lakes. When LaSalle decided to return to Niagara, Father Hennepin headed up the Mississippi before being taken captive by a band of Sioux warriors. He was rescued several months later and sent back to France, where he published his Description of Louisiana. The book satisfied the Continent's hunger for knowledge about the new world, but turned out to have been pilfered from LaSalle's records. Many years before, LaSalle himself had written home to France to warn them of Hennepin's enthusiasm. "He speaks more in keeping with what he wishes than what he knows."


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