Mar. 15, 2003
The Wild Swans At Coole
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Poem: "On the Strength of All Conviction and the Stamina of Love," by Jennifer Michael Hecht from The Next Ancient World (Tupelo Press).
On the Strength of All Conviction
and the Stamina of Love
Sometimes I think
we could have gone on.
All of us. Trying. Forever.
But they didn't fill
the desert with pyramids.
They just built some. Some.
They're not still out there,
building them now. Everyone,
everywhere, gets up, and goes home.
Yet we must not
diabolize time. Right?
We must not curse the passage of time.
It's the birthday of novelist and poet Ben Okri, born in Minna, Nigeria (1959). He was born to the Urhobo people, the fifth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. He spent his early childhood in London while his father studied law, but returned to Lagos when he was seven, just after the start of the Nigerian Civil War. One afternoon when it was raining and he was bored, he drew a picture of the things that were sitting on the mantelpiece. Then he wrote a poem. "The drawing took about an hour, and it was awful," he said. "The poem took about ten minutes, and it was tolerable, bearable." He decided to become a writer. His novel, The Famished Road, won the Booker Prize in 1991.
It's the birthday of blues guitarist Lightnin' Hopkins, born in Centerville, Texas (1912). Hopkins wrote and sang and recorded a monumental catalogue of blues songs. He played on street corners, in small clubs and at Carnegie Hall.
It's the birthday of botanist and horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey, born in South Haven, Michigan, (1858). By the age of fourteen he was helping the neighborhood farmers graft good apple stock onto their inferior trees. Cornell University offered him a position teaching horticulture in 1888. It was the first time they had ever had a professor of horticulture. His encyclopedia of cultivated plants, Hortus, is still considered a standard reference in the field.
It's the birthday of the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, born in the Waxhaw settlement in South Carolina (1767). At the Battle of New Orleans, he had his troops dig a lot of fortifications on short notice so sharpshooters could fire on the British invaders. 2000 British soldiers were killed and only eight Americans were lost. As it happened, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed two weeks before that, and the British had already agreed to stop fighting, but news of the Treaty had not reached New Orleans. Jackson became a national hero anyway. He ran for President in 1824, but lost to Adams when the House of Representatives broke a tie in the electoral college; in 1828, three times as many voters went to the polls, and Jackson trounced Adams. It was Jackson who signed the Indian Removal Act and sent sixteen thousand Cherokee down the Trail of Tears; Davy Crockett, a congressman from Tennessee, resigned in protest.
It's the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was murdered in the Senate House in Rome, in 44 B.C. He had been ordered to stop fighting and lay down his command; instead, he crossed the Rubicon and started a civil war. He was a fearless commander, but as a civil leader he assumed privileges no one had before, and his arrogance toward the Senators turned them against him. He had been warned by a soothsayer that he would die on that day. He entered the Senate that morning and caught sight of the man, and teased him about his prophecy. "The Ides is not yet over," the soothsayer replied. When the attackers left and the Senate was empty, Caesar's slaves carried his body home on a litter. None of his assassins outlived him for very long, and there was civil war in Rome for another thirteen years.
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