Feb. 12, 2007
Poem: "Jet Lag" by Eve Robillard, from When Gertrude Married Alice. © Parallel Press. Reprinted with permission.
He flies over the ocean to see his girl, his Sorbonne
girl, his ginger-skinned girl waiting for him in the City
of Light. Everywhere river and almost-spring gardens,
everywhere bridges and rainy statues. Streets going
nowhere, streets going on all night. I love you my mona
my lisa, my cabbage, my gargoyle, Degas' little dancer
in dawn's ragged gown. But on the third day she
picks up her books, tells him she needs to study:
she adores this town, she's not coming home in May, she's
going to stay all summer. Lowers her morning-calm eyes.
He's all right in the cab, all right on the plane droning
him home in only three hours American key in his lock now
his tick-tock apartment, shiver his shadow, his need
to sleep. Then with a tiredness washing over and
over him and through his raveling bones
he begins to know.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of two men who were born on exactly the same day in 1809: Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln (books by this author) was born on this day near Hodgenville, Kentucky (1809). Though he's generally considered possibly the greatest president in our country's history, fairly little is known about his early life. Unlike most presidents, he never wrote any memoirs. We know that he was born in a log cabin and had barely a year of traditional schooling. His mother died when he was nine, and he spent much of his adolescence working with an ax. But when he was in his early 20s, Lincoln apparently decided to make himself into a respectable man. Residents of the town of New Salem, Illinois, said that they remembered Lincoln just appearing in their town one day. People remembered him because he was one of the tallest people anyone had ever seen, about 6 foot 4, and the pants that he wore were so short that they didn't even cover his ankles.
As people got to know him, they found he had a wonderful sense of humor. And he was a hard worker, taking jobs as a miller, storekeeper, surveyor, and postman. Meanwhile, he joined a debate society, read books on grammar and rhetoric, and studied to become a lawyer. But he suffered from wild mood swings. He once became so depressed that he considered suicide.
Lincoln had grown up at a time when politics seemed like a truly noble profession, and he thought that maybe he could achieve the greatness he'd dreamed of as a politician. He served a few terms in the Illinois State Legislature, and then he was elected to the U.S. Congress. But while he was in Washington, he couldn't get a single bill passed. After two years, he left office, assuming his political career was finished.
So he went back to his law practice and became an enormously successful lawyer. He handled more than 5,000 cases over the course of his law career, making him one of the busiest lawyers in the state. And then, in 1854, he heard about the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, sponsored by the senator from Illinois, Stephen Douglas, which would have allowed for the expansion of slavery into territories in the North. Lincoln hadn't ever been an abolitionist, but he saw the Kansas-Nebraska Bill as a great wedge issue that could help him make a real mark in the world.
His campaign for senator of Illinois in 1858 turned him into a national figure, and though he lost the race, two years later he managed to maneuver himself into the nomination for president in 1860 and he won. Lincoln spent little more than four years serving as president, and for most of those four years, there weren't many people who thought he was doing a good job. The Civil War went on for longer than most people thought it would, and it was far more brutal than anyone expected. Lincoln had a hard time getting his generals to aggressively pursue the enemy, and the Confederates came close to capturing Washington, D.C.It was only in the last few months of his life that it seemed the North would win the war and the Union would be preserved. In the second week of April 1865, he received word that that Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army. On the afternoon of April 14, 1865, Lincoln took a ride in an open carriage with his wife, and he was the happiest she'd ever seen him. He told her, "I consider this day, the war has come to a close." That same night, he and his wife went to the theater, and Lincoln was murdered by John Wilkes Booth.
Charles Darwin (books by this author) was born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England (1809). When he was only 22, a man named Robert FitzRoy began looking for a naturalist who might accompany him on a voyage to the southern tip of South America. One of Darwin's professors recommended him for the job, and Darwin jumped at the chance.
Darwin brought with him a book called Principles of Geology by Sir Charles Lyell, which suggested that the earth was millions of years old. And along the journey, Darwin got a chance to explore the Galapagos Islands. These islands were spaced far enough apart that the animals on them had evolved over time into different species. Darwin realized that if the Earth were millions of years old, it was possible that all the animals on Earth had self-selected certain traits through breeding that would help them take best advantage of their environments.
It took him a long time to publish his ideas, mainly because he was afraid of being attacked as an atheist. But about 20 years after he first came up with the idea, he published his book On the Origin of Species (1859). Part of the reason it was such a great success was that Darwin chose to write it in the simplest language possible. It is one of the few scientific works written by a great scientist that is still read and understood by amateurs.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®