Jul. 16, 2006
Poem: "The Garret" by Ezra Pound from Selected Poems 1908-1969. © Faber & Faber. Reprinted with permission.
Come, let us pity those who are better off than we are.
Come, my friend, and remember
that the rich have butlers and no friends,
And we have friends and no butlers.
Come, let us pity the married and the unmarried.
Dawn enters with little feet
And I am near my desire.
Nor has life in it aught better
Than this hour of clear coolness,
the hour of waking together.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It was on this day in 1945 that the first atomic bomb was exploded at 5:30 a.m., one hundred and twenty miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the end result of the Manhattan Project, which had started in 1939. The bomb contained a ball of plutonium about the size of a baseball, surrounded by a ring of uranium and a series of detonators. Its main pieces were placed on the backseat of an army jeep and driven to the test site, where the bomb was assembled and positioned at the top of a hundred-foot steel tower for the test explosion.
At 2:00 a.m. on this day in 1945, a thunderstorm blew in from the Gulf of Mexico. The men assembling the bomb had to do so in the midst of a lightning storm, wondering what would happen if lightning struck the tower. But the weather cleared up just before dawn. They started the countdown fifteen seconds before 5:30 a.m. The physicists and military men watched from about 10,000 yards away. They all wore Welder's glasses and suntan lotion.
One of the physicists who was there that day said, "We were lying there, very tense, in the early dawn, and there were just a few streaks of gold in the east; you could see your neighbor very dimly. ... Suddenly, there was an enormous flash of light, the brightest light I have ever seen ... it bored its way right through you. It was a vision which was seen with more than the eye. It was seen to last forever. ... There was an enormous ball of fire which grew and grew and it rolled as it grew; it went up into the air, in yellow flashes and into scarlet and green. It looked menacing. It seemed to come toward one."
The ball of fire rose rapidly, releasing four times the heat of the interior of the sun, followed by a mushroom cloud that extended forty thousand feet into the sky. Tests showed that it had released energy equal to 21,000 tons of TNT. The burst of light was so bright that it lit up the moon. An army captain in Albuquerque who knew about the test could see the explosion from his hotel room, more than a hundred miles away.
Later, when the scientists went to examine the site of the explosion, they found a crater in the ground 1200 feet in diameter. The ground was covered with a green, glassy substance, which was actually sand that had been fused into glass by the heat.
At the time, the military announced that an ammunitions dump had exploded, and a few weeks later the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
It was on this day in 1951 that the J.D. Salinger's first and only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, was published. In 1941, Salinger (books by this author) sent The New Yorker a story called "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," about a troubled teenager named Holden Caulfield, and The New Yorker bought it. It was November of 1941, and The New Yorker planned to run the story in their Christmas issue. But that December, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and Salinger's story was put on hold. It was considered too trivial in a time of war.
Salinger enlisted in the army and he participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. For the next several months he saw some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, including the Battle of the Bulge. At the end of the war Salinger checked into an Army general hospital in Nuremberg, suffering from a nervous breakdown.
It was after Salinger's release from the hospital that he sent out for publication the first Holden Caulfield story narrated by Holden Caulfield himself, a story called "I'm Crazy." It was published in Collier's in December of 1945. One year later, in 1946, The New Yorker finally published "Slight Rebellion Off Madison," which they had been holding onto since before the war began.
Salinger continued publishing short stories for the rest of the 1940s, most of them in The New Yorker, and in 1949, the editor, Robert Giroux, wrote him to ask if he wanted to publish a collection of short stories. Giroux didn't hear back from Salinger for months, and then, one day, Salinger walked into his office.
Giroux said, "A tall, sad-looking young man with a long face and deep-set black eyes walked in, saying, 'It's not my stories that should be published first, but the novel I'm working on ... about this kid in New York during the Christmas holidays.'" Giroux said he'd love to publish it, but when it was finished one of his superiors thought the kid in the book seemed too crazy. So Salinger published The Catcher in the Rye with Little, Brown and Company, and it came out on this day in 1951.
It reached the best-seller list after being in print just two weeks, and it stayed there for more than six months. It has gone on to sell more than sixty million copies.
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