Wednesday

May 4, 2005

By Her Aunt's Grave

by Thomas Hardy

WEDNESDAY, 4 MAY, 2005
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Poem: "By Her Aunt's Grave" by Thomas Hardy. Public Domain.

By Her Aunt's Grave

'Sixpence a week', says the girl to her lover,
'Aunt used to bring me, for she could confide
In me alone, she vowed. 'Twas to cover
The cost of her headstone when she died.
And that was a year ago last June;
I've not yet fixed it. But I must soon.'

'And where is the money now, my dear?'
'O, snug in my purse... Aunt was so slow
In saving it—eighty weeks, or near.'...
'Let's spend it,' he hints. 'For she won't know.
There's a dance to-night at the Load of Hay.'
She passively nods. And they go that way.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1626 that Dutch explorer Peter Minuit landed on what is now Manhattan island, where a little settlement had been established on the southern tip by the Dutch East India Company, called New Amsterdam.

The Dutch had been drawn to Manhattan for many reasons. For one thing, it had access to the Atlantic, but it was protected by Sandy Hook, Long Island, and Staten Island. It was the perfect entrance point for shipping.

And also it was extraordinarily fertile and full of wildlife. Wild roses grew there. The fragrance of flowers drifted far out to sea. The oysters were huge, 12 inches; there were giant lobsters, six feet across; so many fish in the streams they could be caught by hand; flocks of birds, wild swans, blackbirds.

A few days after Peter Minuit arrived, he bought the island of Manhattan from the local tribes with cloth, beads, hatchets, other merchandise worth about $24, about $1 for each square mile of land.

New York City was one of the first great cities of the world to draw its population from all over the world. Even when there were less than 1,000 people living there at the beginning, there were more than 18 different languages spoken. New York City has at different times been the largest Irish or Jewish or Italian or black African city in the world. It was, and still is today, the most poly-lingual city on the planet.


O Henry wrote, "If there ever was an aviary overstocked with jays, it is that Yaptown-on-the-Hudson called New York. Cosmopolitan, they call it, you bet. So's a piece of fly-paper. You listen close when they're buzzing and trying to pull their feet out of the sticky stuff. 'Little old New York's good enough for us'—that's what they sing."


It's the birthday of the educator Horace Mann, born in Franklin, Massachusetts (1796). In 1837, he took over the state Board of Education at a time when public schools in Massachusetts were in serious decline. He established teachers' colleges. He founded a professional journal. He got more money for salaries and new schools and books, and he argued with the legislature for free common, nonsectarian education, conducted by professional teachers.


It was on this day in 1948 that Norman Mailer's novel The Naked and the Dead was published. He was just 25 years old. The book made him one of the most famous novelists in America.

Norman Mailer had gone off to World War II with the idea that he would use his experience to write a great novel. When he got to the South Pacific, though, he was assigned to a desk job, and he had to volunteer as a rifleman with a reconnaissance platoon in the mountains of the Philippines in order to get the material that he wanted.

He wrote the book in 15 months. It's a story of an infantry platoon, that includes a Mississippi dirt farmer, a Mexican-American, a coal miner from Montana, a middle-class Kansas salesman, a Chicago hoodlum, an Irishman from Boston, and a Jew from Brooklyn.


And it's the anniversary of the shooting at Kent State University in Ohio, (1970). It started as a protest against the war in Vietnam, when a platoon of National guardsmen, for reasons nobody knows, turned and fired into a crowd of students and killed four of them. There was never a trial, and no one was ever disciplined.


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