Oct. 21, 2007

Making Things Right

by Barbara Bloom

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Poem: "Making Things Right" by Barbara Bloom from On the Water Meridian. © Hummingbird Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Making Things Right
     for my father

Driving through the apple orchards
heavy with fruit,
I realize I have let the anniversary of your death
slip by-ten years already, or is it eleven?
It's a gray morning, and the clouds press down,
obscuring the sun.

I wonder if you knew
when you had to be helped on with your shoes
for the ride to the hospital
that you would never again
stroke your cat
or walk into your lab room
with its walls lined with antique instruments and books.

What I remember most from that time
is standing by your bed
as you grew smaller and smaller,
less and less of you
who had so frightened me as a child,
and looking down at you
lying there quietly
when it was too late to talk.

I just held your hand
and told you I loved you.
I don't know what you heard
or what you knew,
but those words were all that was left
that could matter
before you leapt off
from your bed
in that tiny white room
into something huge.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (books by this author) born in Ottery St. Mary in Devonshire, England (1772), who was an extremely ambitious young man, giving lectures on religion, writing journalism, and single-handedly trying to launch his own magazine. But he was exhausting himself and falling into a depression until he was introduced to the poet William Wordsworth. They met only briefly in 1795, but they struck up a correspondence and began exchanging poems. Wordsworth encouraged Coleridge to stop writing journalism and focus on poetry, and Coleridge took the advice. His poetry made him happier and happier, and one day in the summer of 1797, after finishing a long poem, he decided he needed to see Wordsworth in the flesh. So he set out to walk to Wordsworth's house, miles away. The walk took several days and when he approached Wordsworth's home, he got so excited that he jumped over the gate and ran down the field to Wordsworth's house.

That first year of their friendship was the most productive period of Coleridge's life. They both liked to compose their poetry while walking, so they took long walks together. That winter, they went for a hike along the coast, and to pass the time they made up a gothic ballad about a tragic sea voyage. Coleridge became obsessed with the poem when he got home, filling it with images from nightmares he'd had since he was a kid, and it became his masterpiece, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," (1798), the story of a sailor who brings a curse on his ship when he kills an albatross, and for the rest of his voyage he is tormented by sea monsters and the ghosts of his dead shipmates.

Wordsworth and Coleridge published a collection of poems together called Lyrical Ballads in 1798, which included "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and which helped inspire the Romantic Movement in poetry. But within a few years, Coleridge had become addicted to opium, which killed his creativity and ruined his friendship with Wordsworth. He wrote a great book of literary criticism called Biographia Literaria (1817), but he failed to complete most of his ambitious projects, including a 1,400-page work of geography, a two-volume history of English prose, a translation of Faust, a musical about Adam and Eve, a history of logic, a history of German metaphysics, a study of witchcraft, and an encyclopedia.

His friends hated the fact that he had wasted so much of his talent. They'd all considered him the most brilliant writer and thinker they'd ever known, but he'd accomplished so little. Near the end of his life, his friend Charles Lamb wrote of Coleridge, "His face when he repeats his verses hath its ancient glory, an Archangel a little damaged."

It was on this day in 1879 that the inventor Thomas Edison finally struck upon the key to inventing a workable electric light in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Researchers had been trying to make electric lights since the 1820s, but they'd been using the wrong material for the filament. Edison tried a number of different materials until he settled on carbonized cotton thread. At 1:30 in the morning on this day in 1879, he hooked a carbon filament up to an electric circuit and it glowed from 1:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. the following afternoon.

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