May 3, 2007
Old South School
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Poem: "Old South School" by Rosie King, from Sweetwater, Saltwater: Poems by Rosie King. © Hummingbird Press. Reprinted with permission.
Old South School
The sidewalk my feet once knew in every weather
still heads straight
to the corner of Martin's drugstore,
still turns north on Elm, where
the white-belted boys on safety patrol
held their arms out for us, past the red and white pole
at Mickey's, king of crewcuts,
and stops at the little flight of steps,
plinth of chipped concrete by the kindergarten door
locked. It's summer, and all the windows
now stuccoed muddy brown,
so even when the kids are at their desks,
they can't see out.
I want my yellow slicker,
my locker by the art room stairs
where once in a morning of thunder,
from the stairwell's high window
dark clouds blew away
and just in time
for walking home
the sun poured down.
A crow now,
flapping and cawing high above the west steps,
and there, on top of the entrance columns, stone claws
clinging to the eavestiny gargoyles grinning.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of playwright and screenwriter William Inge, born in Independence, Kansas (1913). He wrote Picnic (1953), Bus Stop (1955), and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957).
It's the birthday of songwriter and playwright Betty Comden, (books by this author) born in Brooklyn, New York (1915). She and Adolph Green had one of the longest-running collaborations in the history of Broadway. Together they wrote the lyrics for On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1953), Subways are for Sleeping (1961), Hallelujah, Baby (1967), and the movie Singin' in the Rain (1952).
It's the birthday of the poet, essayist, and novelist May Sarton, (books by this author) born in Wondelgem, Belgium (1912). Her family was forced to flee the country during World War I, so she grew up in Massachusetts and eventually settled in New York City. After an attempt at becoming an actor, she began writing books of poetry, as well as many novels, including Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965). Then, in the last 15 years of her life, she published a series of journals about aging, including At Seventy (1984) and After the Stroke (1988). She wrote about her daily habits, gardening, washing the dishes, taking care of her pets, looking at the ocean. She referred to her journals as "the sacramentalization of ordinary life."
It's the birthday of Niccolò Machiavelli, (books by this author) born in Florence, Italy (1469). He grew up at an extremely unstable period of Italian history. Italy wasn't even a country at the time, but just a collection of city-states that were constantly at war with each other. By the time he was 30, Machiavelli became the secretary to Florence's governing council, which meant he was the most influential bureaucrat in the city.
But at the height of Machiavelli's career, the influential Medici family took power in Florence, overthrowing the elected city council and purging the government of enemies, including Machiavelli. He lost his government position, and then the authorities arrested him and threw him in a dungeon, where he was tortured for 22 days.
Machiavelli was eventually released from prison and sentenced to house arrest. He decided that the only way to get his life back was to offer some kind of gift to the Medici family, and the thing he had to give was his knowledge of politics. So he holed up in his tiny villa just outside of Florence and set out to write a handbook, incorporating everything he knew about being an effective ruler in a dangerous and volatile world. It took him just a few months to complete his book in 1513, and that was The Prince, the book for which he is remembered today.
Machiavelli's main point in The Prince is that an effective ruler should use whatever means possible to keep his country secure and peaceful. He wrote, "Men must be either pampered or crushed, because they can get revenge for small injuries, but not for grievous ones. So any injury a prince does a man should be of a kind where there is no fear of revenge."
Despite Machiavelli's hopes, The Prince didn't win over the Medicis. A few years later, a new republic was established in Italy, but Machiavelli's name had already become so associated with evil and violence that he wasn't able to get another government job for the rest of his life. Today, the word "Machiavellian" has come to mean "marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith."
Niccolò Machiavelli said, "It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both."
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