Mar. 20, 2007
Light, at Thirty-Two
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Poem: "Light, at Thirty-Two" by Michael Blumenthal from Days We Would Rather Know. © Pleasure Boat Studio. Reprinted with permission.
Light, at Thirty-Two
It is the first thing God speaks of
when we meet Him, in the good book
of Genesis. And now, I think
I see it all in terms of light:
How, the other day at dusk
on Ossabaw Island, the marsh grass
was the color of the most beautiful hair
I had ever seen, or howyears ago
in the early-dawn light of Montrose Park
I saw the most ravishing woman
in the world, only to find, hours later
over drinks in a dark bar, that it
wasn't she who was ravishing,
but the light: how it filtered
through the leaves of the magnolia
onto her cheeks, how it turned
her cotton dress to silk, her walk
to a tour-jeté.
And I understood, finally,
what my friend John meant,
twenty years ago, when he said: Love
is keeping the lights on. And I understood
why Matisse and Bonnard and Gauguin
and Cézanne all followed the light:
Because they knew all lovers are equal
in the dark, that light defines beauty
the way longing defines desire, that
everything depends on how light falls
on a seashell, a mouth ... a broken bottle.
And now, I'd like to learn
to follow light wherever it leads me,
never again to say to a woman, YOU
are beautiful, but rather to whisper:
Darling, the way light fell on your hair
This morning when we wokeGod,
It was beautiful. Because, if the light is right,
Then the day and the body and the faint pleasures
Waiting at the window ... they too are right.
All things lovely there. As the first poet wrote,
in his first book of poems: Let there be light.
And there is.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of playwright Henrik Ibsen, (books by this author) born in Skien, Norway (1828). He was an assistant stage manager for a new theater, where it was his job to produce a new drama each year based on Norway's glorious past. He produced a number of plays, but none got any attention. Overworked and on the edge of poverty, he applied to the government for a stipend to travel abroad, and got it. He spent the next 27 years living in Italy and Germany.
He found that by leaving his homeland, he could finally see Norway clearly, and he began to work on creating a true Norwegian drama. At a time when most people were writing plays full of sword fights and murders, Ibsen started to write plays about relationships between ordinary people. He used dialogue rather than monologues to reveal his characters' emotions, and he stopped writing in verse. He said, "We are no longer living in the age of Shakespeare. ... What I desire to depict [are] human beings, and therefore I [will] not let them talk the language of the gods."
One of Ibsen's first important plays was A Doll's House (1879), about a woman named Nora who refuses to obey her husband and eventually leaves him, walking out of the house and slamming the door in the final scene. When it was first produced, European audiences were shocked, and it sparked debate about women's rights and divorce across the continent. It also changed the style of acting. At the time, most actors were praised for their ability to deliver long poetic speeches, but Ibsen emphasized small gestures, the inflection of certain words, and pauses, and he inspired a new generation of actors to begin embodying the characters they played.
A Doll's House made Ibsen a celebrity across Europe. His play Ghosts (1881) came out two years later.
Henrik Ibsen said, "You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth."
It's the birthday of the poet Ovid, (books by this author) born in the village of Sulmo, just east of Rome (43 B.C.). After having written many light, popular works, Ovid began his masterpiece, The Metamorphoses (c. 8 A.D.), a collection of all the Greek and Roman myths that deal with transformation, told in chronological order from the origin of the universe to the death of Julius Caesar. It begins, "Of bodies changed to various forms I sing: / Ye gods, from whom these miracles did spring."
Ovid wrote: "There's nothing constant in the world,
All ebb and flow, and every shape that's born
Bears in its womb the seeds of change."
It was on this day in 1852 that Harriet Beecher Stowe's (books by this author) novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. Stowe published Uncle Tom's Cabin in serial installments in the abolitionist paper National Era. When it came out as a complete novel on this day, it was an immediate sensation, selling more than 300,000 copies in its first year and more than 3 million copies by the start of the Civil War.
It's the birthday of novelist and memoirist Kathryn Harrison, (books by this author) born in Los Angeles (1961). She had been working as a slush-pile reader at Viking when she published her first novel, Thicker than Water (1991), about a young girl's horrific childhood, unloved by her mother and sexually abused by her father. The book got good reviews, and so did her second novel, Exposure (1993), about a young woman whose father becomes a famous photographer after taking sexually explicit pictures of her.
Then, in 1997, she stirred up a storm of controversy when she published her memoir, The Kiss, in which she admitted for the first time that most of the horrific details in her first novel were true. Her memoir detailed how she fell into a four-year sexual affair with her father when she was 20 years old.
Kathryn Harrison wrote, "We're taught to expect unconditional love from our parents, but I think it is more the gift our children give us. It's they who love us helplessly, no matter what or who we are."
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