Apr. 8, 2007

Easter Wings

by George Herbert

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Poem: "Easter Wings" by George Herbert. Public Domain.

Easter Wings

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
      Though foolishly he lost the same,
           Decaying more and more,
                Till he became
                      Most poore:
                      With thee
                O let me rise
           As larks, harmoniously,
      And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne
      And still with sicknesses and shame.
           Thou didst so punish sinne,
                That I became
                      Most thinne.
                      With thee
                Let me combine,
           And feel thy victorie:
      For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Easter Sunday in the Christian Church, the holiday that celebrates Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Easter is one of the few floating holidays in the calendar year, because it's based on the cycles of the moon. Jesus was said to have risen from the dead on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. For that reason, Easter can fall as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th.

The word "Easter" comes from an ancient pagan goddess worshipped by Anglo Saxons named Eostre. According to legend, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning it into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit became our Easter Bunny. Eggs were a symbol of fertility in part because they used to be so scarce during the winter. There are records of people giving each other decorated eggs at Easter as far back as the 11th century.

It was on this day in 1935, that Congress approved the Works Progress Administration, a program designed to relieve the economic hardship of the Great Depression by funding the employment of more than 8.5 million people to work on numerous public projects around the country. Most of these projects involved planting trees and building dams and other manual labor. But among those put out of work by the Great Depression were writers, and so the Roosevelt Administration came up with the idea of employing writers to travel around the country and produce the first really comprehensive self-portrait of America. This effort was called the Federal Writers' Project, and it was one of the most ambitious government-funded arts programs in American history.

Many writers got their start working on the Federal Writers' Project, including John Cheever, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Kenneth Rexroth, Studs Terkel, Margaret Walker, Richard Wright, and Eudora Welty. The project also helped support established writers, like Conrad Aiken and Nelson Algren, who had fallen on hard times. Algren said, "Had it not been for [the Writers' Project], the suicide rate would have been much higher. It gave new life to people who had thought their lives were over."

The administrators of the project decided that one of the best ways to employ writers would be to have them write guidebooks, describing every state in the nation, as well as all the major cities. And so offices were opened in each state, and writers who met the poverty requirement were paid about $25 a week to explore the surrounding areas and uncover whatever interesting facts they could find about the people, the history, and the traditions of even the tiniest towns and villages, down to the color of the courthouses.

The novelist John Steinbeck was such a big fan of the W.P.A. guidebooks that he bought a complete set. He once described the guidebooks as, "The most comprehensive account of the United States ever got together ... compiled during the Depression by the best writers in America, who were, if that is possible, more depressed than any other group while maintaining their inalienable instinct for eating."

It's the birthday of novelist Barbara Kingsolver, (books by this author) born in Annapolis, Maryland (1955). She majored in biology at DePauw University in Indiana, and then got a master's degree in evolutionary biology. She was working on a Ph.D. thesis on the social lives of termites when she decided to abandon a career in science and try to become a writer. Kingsolver began writing short stories in her spare time, and then she wrote her novel The Bean Trees (1986) about a woman from rural Kentucky who leaves home so she won't get stuck in a boring, dead-end life. The Bean Trees was a huge success, and Kingsolver has gone on to write many more novels, including The Poisonwood Bible (1998), about the wife and four daughters of an evangelical Baptist minister who go as missionaries to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

It's the birthday of investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois (1937). He majored in history at the University of Chicago, and then went to law school for a year, but he was expelled for poor grades. He worked at a drugstore for a while before a friend told him the Chicago City News Bureau was hiring college graduates with no experience for $35 a week. He took the job, and he's been working in journalism ever since.

In the late 1960s, he got a tip from a lawyer who worked with military deserters that American soldiers had massacred an entire village in Vietnam, killing all the men, women, and children. He followed up on it and broke the story of what is now known as the My Lai massacre in 36 newspapers, and went on to write a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the subject, My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath (1970). Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Hersh has been writing articles about American foreign policy for The New Yorker.

When asked what the secret is to being an investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh said, "I don't make deals, I don't party and drink with sources, and I don't play a game of leaks. I read, I listen, I squirrel information. It's fun."

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




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