Thursday

Jan. 3, 2008

Taking Down the Tree

by Jane Kenyon

"Give me some light!" cries Hamlet's
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. "Light! Light!" cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it's dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.

The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother's childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.

With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.

By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it's darkness
we're having, let it be extravagant.

"Taking Down the Tree" by Jane Kenyon, from Collected Poems © Graywolf Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission.(buy now)

It was on this day in 1521 that Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther for condemning the Catholic Church in his 95 theses. Luther was a professor of biblical interpretation at the time in Germany, and he could find no text in scripture that permitted the church to make money by selling indulgences for the forgiveness of sins.

On this day in 1841, the whaler Acushnet sailed from New Bedford with Herman Melville (books by this author) on board. His father had lost his fortune, and Melville had no money to continue his schooling. A year of farming proved unsatisfactory, and he decided to go to sea. He wrote, "A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

It's the birthday of Father Damien, born Joseph de Veuster in Belgium (1840), the priest who served the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Kaluapapa. At that time, victims were dumped off the boat in the shallows because the captains were terrified to go ashore. Doctors left medicine on the beach and fled. Damien, however, dressed the wounds of his patients himself, ate with them, and buried them when they died. Eventually he developed the illness himself, and he died on the island, having roofed its buildings and made its hospital beds with his own hands. He said, "I would not be cured if the price of the cure was that I must leave the island and give up my work... I am perfectly resigned to my lot. Do not feel sorry for me."

It's the birthday of J.R.R. (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien, (books by this author) born in South Africa (1892). In addition to The Lord of the Rings (1954) trilogy, Tolkien also wrote and illustrated children's stories.

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

 









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