May 23, 2006
Philosophy in Warm Weather
Poem: "Philosophy in Warm Weather," by Jane Kenyon, from The Boat of Quiet Hours. © Graywolf Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Philosophy in Warm Weather
Now all the doors and windows
are open, and we move so easily
through the rooms. Cats roll
on the sunny rugs, and a clumsy wasp
climbs the pane, pausing
to rub a leg over her head.
All around physical life reconvenes.
The molecules of our bodies must love
to exist: they whirl in circles
and seem to begrudge us nothing.
Heat, Horatio, heat makes them
put this antic disposition on!
This year's brown spider
sways over the door as I come
and go. A single poppy shouts
from the far field, and the crow,
beyond alarm, goes right on
pulling up the corn.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of poet Thomas Hood, (books by this author), born in London (1799). His early poetry was serious and romantic, but then in 1825 he anonymously published a collection of comic poems called Odes and Addresses to Great People (1825), which poked fun at many famous writers and thinkers of his day. The book was enormously successful; Samuel Taylor Coleridge described the puns as "transcendent." Hood tried all his life to write serious poems, but he is best remembered today for his comic verse, collected in books such as Whims and Oddities (1827) and Whimsicalities (1844).
He wrote, "'Lives' of great men oft remind us as we o'er their pages turn, / That we too many leave behind us / Letters that we ought to burn."
It's the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon, (books by this author), born in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1947). She wrote poetry about everyday life, collected in books such as The Boat of Quiet Hours (1986) and Let Evening Come (1990).
It's the birthday of playwright, poet and novelist Pär Lagerkvist, (books by this author), born in Växjö, Sweden (1891). He's best known for his novel Barabbas (1950), about the thief pardoned by Pontius Pilate at the time of Jesus' crucifixion. Lagerkvist was the son of poor, devout Lutherans, but when he was in high school he read Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, and it caused him to question his faith. He began writing for various socialist journals and made a name for himself as one of the most promising young socialist writers of his day.
Between 1915 and 1945, he published more than twenty-five plays and novels, none of them very successful. He wrote about the anguish and the meaninglessness of the universe, and many of his characters were disabled, deformed, or dead. His short-story collection The Eternal Smile (1934) is about a group of spirits passing the time in eternity by telling stories about their former lives. He finally achieved international recognition with his novel Barabbas (1950), and a year later he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
It's the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1910). She wanted to become a writer as a young woman, and she once took a creative writing class from Gertrude Stein. But she had a hard time coming up with story ideas, so she went into education. She got a job researching the way that children learn to use language and found that children love language with patterns of sound and rhythm. She also found that young children have a special attachment to words for objects they can see and touch, like shoes and socks and bowls and bathtubs.
She eventually began to write books for children based on her research and in 1938 she became the editor of a publishing house called William R. Scott & Company which specialized in new children's literature. The Great Depression had made children's books into luxury items, and most other publishing houses had phased out children's literature. Margaret Wise Brown helped make children's books profitable, because she invested in high-quality color illustrations, and she printed her books on strong paper with durable bindings, so that children could grab, squeeze and bite their books the way they did with all their toys.
But we know Margaret Wise Brown for one book she wrote, and that was Goodnight Moon (1947), which includes the lines "Goodnight room / Goodnight moon / Goodnight cow jumping over the moon ... Goodnight stars / Goodnight air / Goodnight noises everywhere."
The New York Public Library gave it a terrible review, and it didn't sell as well as some of Brown's other books in its first year. But parents were amazed at the book's almost hypnotic effect on children, its ability to calm them down before bed. Brown thought the book was successful because it helped children let go of the world around them piece by piece, just before turning out the light and falling asleep.
Parents recommended the book to each other, and it slowly became a word-of-mouth best-seller. It sold about 1,500 copies in 1953, 4,000 in 1955, 8,000 in 1960, 20,000 in 1970; and by 1990 the total number of copies sold had reached more than four million.
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