Jun. 12, 2006
Poem: "The Rain" by Robert Creeley from The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley © University of California Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quiet, persistent rain.
What am I to myself
that must be remembered,
so often? Is it
that never the ease,
even the hardness,
of rain falling
will have for me
something other than this,
something not so insistent
am I to be locked in this
Love, if you love me,
lie next to me.
Be for me, like rain,
the getting out
of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi-
lust of intentional indifference.
with a decent happiness.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Harriet Martineau, (books by this author), born in Norwich, England (1802). She was born without the sense of taste or smell, and by the time she was twelve she had gone deaf. She became one of the most popular writers in the English-speaking world. Army officers were said to have wept over her books. Queen Victoria considered her one of the greatest writers of all time. Famous thinkers and statesmen considered her one of the most influential people of her generation.
And yet today, almost all of Harriet Martineau's books have been forgotten. The only exception is her Autobiography, which came out in 1877, and it is generally considered one of the best autobiographies written during the Victorian era.
It's the birthday of civil engineer John (Augustus) Roebling, born in Mulhausen, Prussia (1806). He was trained as an engineer in Berlin and worked for the Prussian government for several years before moving to the United States when he was twenty-five. He settled in western Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, and spent a few years trying to make a living as a farmer, but he had no luck.
He introduced a new design for woven wire cables to replace unreliable fiber ropes used to drag boats over canals. His wire cables were a big success, and the demand for them became so great that he was able to open a factory in Trenton, New Jersey.
Roebling could have lived off selling his cables for the rest of his life, but he'd always wanted to be a real engineer, and so he and his son began building suspension bridges. At the time, suspension bridges were the wave of the future, because they could span much greater distances than traditional bridges. But most bridge builders were using inferior cables, and inferior designs. The vast majority of suspension bridges built in Roebling's lifetime were eventually destroyed by windstorms.
Roebling, with help from his son, built four suspension bridges during the 1850s and '60s, including two in Pittsburgh, one at Niagara Falls, and another across the Ohio River. Then, in 1867, he accepted a commission to build what would be the largest suspension in the world at that time, spanning 1595 feet across the East River between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
He had just about finished his plans, and was taking some final compass readings on the edge of the river when a ferryboat rammed the piling he was standing on, and one of his feet was crushed. He died of tetanus three weeks later. His son went ahead with the construction of the bridge the following year, using John Roebling's designs, and the result was the Brooklyn Bridge, opened on May 24, 1883.
Today the Brooklyn Bridge is often considered one of the greatest bridges ever built. It's one of the only suspension bridges of its era still in use today.
It's the birthday of Anne Frank, (books by this author), born in Frankfurt, Germany (1929), who received a diary as a birthday present on her thirteenth birthday in 1942 and immediately began writing in it. Her earliest journal entries are about her grades and her classmates and the boys that she knew.
Not long after receiving her diary, Anne and her family were forced to go into hiding in an attic above a store, where they lived for the next two years. Anne Frank wrote in her diary regularly while she was in hiding, but she didn't just write about the Nazi persecution or the experience of living in secret. She also wrote about the ordinary details of her adolescent life. She wrote about how much she hated potatoes and how her older sister was clearly her parents' favorite. She described the jokes people made, and the crush she had on Peter, the son of the other family living in the attic. After her first kiss, Anne Frank wrote in her diary, "My head lay on his shoulder, with his on top of mine. Oh, it was so wonderful. I could hardly talk, my pleasure was too intense; he caressed my cheek and arm, a bit clumsily, and played with my hair."
In 1944, she heard on the radio that people should hang onto their war letters and diaries because they would be historical documents someday. After that she started thinking about trying to publish her diary someday, but she also thought about turning it into a novel.
In June of 1944, the American and English armies landed on the French coast and the war seemed to be coming to an end. But just as the Frank family was making plans to come out of hiding, they were betrayed. Nazis stormed the annex on the morning of August 4th, 1944, twenty-five months after the Franks had gone into hiding. They were taken to a concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen, where Anne Frank died of typhus in 1945. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl first came out in 1947.
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