May 6, 2007
A Wedding Poem
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Poem: "A Wedding Poem" by Thomas R. Smith, from Waking before Dawn. © Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted with permission.
A Wedding Poem
Bright faces surround the woman in white,
the man in black, the sweetness of their attention
to each other a shine rising toward the high ceiling.
The men watch the groom, and the women
the bride, as they speak their candle-lit vows,
as if there were something in it for us personally.
Worn by the distances we the already-married
have traveled down the road on which these two
are setting out, we leave the dust of the journey
outside the door of this house where tonight no word
is casual, no posture undignified, and each
becomes again handsome in them, beautiful in them.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of poet and critic Randall Jarrell, (books by this author) born in Nashville, Tennessee (1914). He wrote many collections of poetry in his life time, but he was also considered one of the greatest literary critics of his generation. In his critical essays, collected and published as Poetry and the Age (1953), he revitalized the reputations of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos Williams. He was also one of the first critics to notice the work of Elizabeth Bishop. In a review of her first book of poems, Jarrell wrote, "[Bishop understands that] morality, for the individual, is usually a small, personal, statistical, but heartbreaking or heartwarming affair of omissions and commissions, the greatest of which will seem infinitesimal, ludicrously beneath notice, to those who govern, rationalize, and deplore."
It was on this day in 1937 that the Hindenburg, the largest aircraft ever to take flight, caught fire as it was landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey, killing 35 people. The disaster effectively ended the growing business of passenger flight in hydrogen-filled dirigibles. It was only in the 1990s that a retired NASA engineer named Addison Bain put forward a theory that the explosion of the Hindenburg wasn't caused by hydrogen at all, but by a chemical used to waterproof the fabric of the gas cells. In fact, that chemical was highly flammable and would go on to become one of the ingredients of rocket fuel. Addison Bain said, "I guess the moral of the story is, don't paint your airship with rocket fuel."
It's the birthday of the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, (books by this author) born in the small town of Freiberg in what was then the Austrian Empire (1856). He started out a medical doctor and scientist in Vienna, studying the anatomy of eels. He also made breakthroughs in the use of anesthetic for surgery. But one of his superiors in the medical community told him that he would never go far in his career because he was Jewish.
So Freud decided to go into the less-crowded field of psychology, where he thought he might be able to break new ground. He was particularly interested in a mental illness called hysteria, which caused patients to suffer from tics, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and hallucinations. It was believed that most hysterics were women, and they were given a variety of treatments: everything from isolation, to electrocution, to surgical removal of the uterus.
Freud learned that some doctors were using hypnosis to treat hysteria, and he went to France to see the use of hypnosis firsthand. Seeing that a patient could be talked out of his or her symptoms gave Freud the idea that the symptoms were a product of the mind and not the body. He learned the method of hypnosis himself and began to treat patients, but he had little success. Then one of Freud's colleagues told him about a patient named Anna O., whose hysterical symptoms had improved when she told stories about her life. The woman herself named this process of storytelling "the talking cure."
Freud knew it would be difficult for a self-respecting woman to talk to her doctor about her darkest fears and desires, and the most traumatic things that had ever happened to her. So he took a couch that had belonged to his wife, covered it with a Persian rug, and asked his patients to lie down on it. Instead of having them look at him, he asked them to stare at an empty wall, and he sat behind them as they talked, occasionally asking a question. He called the process free association.
Over the next few years, he developed the idea that his patients were not conscious of all their desires and fears, that many of their own thoughts were hidden from them in their unconscious mind. He believed that their unconscious mind would reveal itself in various ways, through slips of the tongue, jokes, and especially dreams. What made his ideas so revolutionary and controversial was that he didn't just apply them to mentally ill patients, but to all human beings, even himself. When he came out with The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899, it read like a partial autobiography, because many of the dreams in it were his own. He was suggesting that no one can easily understand his or her unconscious mind, not even the doctor who invented the concept.
Freud's ideas are no longer really a part of modern psychology. Most psychologists don't even consider psychoanalysis a science. But Freud had a tremendous impact on literature. It was after Freud's work that novelists began to write fiction that took place entirely inside the minds of their characters'. His work also gave writers permission to start describing more frankly their characters' sexual desires.
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