Feb. 9, 2007

In the Middle of the Road

by Elizabeth Bishop

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Poem: "In the Middle of the Road" by Carlos Drummond de Andrade, translation by Elizabeth Bishop from The Complete Poems: 1927-1979. © The Noonday Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

In the Middle of the Road

In the middle of the road there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
there was a stone
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Never should I forget this event
in the life of my fatigued retinas.
Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
there was a stone
there was a stone in the middle of the road
in the middle of the road there was a stone.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Alice Walker, (books by this author) born in Eatonton, Georgia (1944). She grew up the youngest of eight children. She's the author of many novels and books of poetry, but she's perhaps best known for her novel The Color Purple (1982), which begins, "Dear God, I am fourteen years old. ... I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me." That novel went on to win both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Walker was the first black woman ever to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

It's the birthday of the playwright and memoirist Brendan Behan, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1923). He grew up in a house fiercely opposed to British rule. His mother was fond of saying, "Burn all things British — except their coal." He got involved with the IRA and as a result spent most of his early life in and out of prison. It was while he was in prison that he wrote his play The Quare Fellow (1954) about a day in the life of group of inmates as they wait for one of their fellow prisoners to be hanged. "Quare fellow" is Irish slang for a condemned man. No Irish theater would produce the play, but it became a sensation in London.

Behan was a heavy drinker and a wild character, and he quickly became one of the most notorious writers in London. He once said, "There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.

"Behan's autobiography Borstal Boy (1958) and his play The Hostage (1958) were also big successes, but after that his health declined, and he died in 1964, his career having lasted only 10 years.

It's the birthday of writer George Ade, (books by this author) born near Kentland, Indiana (1866). He went to Purdue University and then got a job as a newspaperman in Chicago writing a daily column about the weather. He would just walk around the city and ask ordinary people what they thought of the weather, and then he wrote down what they said. His column was so popular that he was given free reign to write about whatever he wanted, and so he just took a walk every day, looking at the city and talking to people, until something struck his fancy.

Then, in 1897, Ade got the idea to write a series of fables about modern characters, using modern American vernacular. The first of these fables was "The Fable of Sister Mae Who Did As Well As Could Be Expected," and it was so popular that he wrote many more, collected in his books Fables in Slang (1899) and More Fables (1900). Ade later said, "It was a great lark to write in slang — just like gorging on forbidden fruit."

It's the birthday of the physicist and science writer Brian Greene, (books by this author) born in New York City (1963). He's one of the leading theorists in an area of physics known as "string theory," and he's also the author of a best-selling book about that theory, called The Elegant Universe (1999).

He studied physics at Harvard and became fascinated with Einstein's theory of relativity, which describes the movements of big objects through space, and the theory of quantum mechanics, which describes the movements of tiny subatomic particles. He eventually got involved in the quest to find a way to bring those two theories together, to find some underlying principle that would explain all the basic forces in the universe. At that very moment, two physicists working in London announced that they may have made a breakthrough in a new area of physics called string theory, which is the theory that all matter is tied together by incredibly tiny vibrating strings. Brian Greene chose to write his doctoral dissertation on string theory, and he became one of an early group of physicists who attempted to prove that string theory is not just theoretical.

Greene fell in love with the beauty of string theory, but he was frustrated that so few people understood it. So he decided to try to explain string theory to a broader audience. He'd never been much of a reader or a writer, but he'd always been good at explaining complicated ideas in his lectures, so he decided to write the book in a conversational style, using analogies and metaphors from the ordinary world to explain incredibly complicated mathematical ideas. The result was his book The Elegant Universe, which became one of the best-selling science books of the 1990s.

Brian Greene said, "I have long thought that anyone who does not regularly gaze up and see the wonder and glory of a dark night sky filled with countless stars loses a sense of their fundamental connectedness to the universe."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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