Sunday

Mar. 30, 2008

Spring and All

by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of a leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

"Spring and All" by William Carlos Williams, from Collected Poems Vol. 1. © New Directions. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Jon Hassler, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis (1933). As a boy, he helped out in his father's little two-aisle grocery store, where he stocked shelves, trimmed produce, and helped customers carry groceries to their cars. He loved observing the personalities of the customers, especially the eccentric ones, and by the time he left home for college, he had come to know, he said, "all our customers by name, where they lived, whom they were related to, and most important to a novelist-in-waiting, I had watched the events of their lives unfold year after year like chapters in a book: births and deaths, house fires and suicides, new cars and picnics, 50th wedding anniversaries attended by hundreds." He considered the grocery store in Plainview, Minnesota, his "training ground" for being a novelist, for it was there that he learned "the fun of picking the individual out of a crowd and the joy of finding the precise words to describe him." He said, "I dare say nobody ever got more nourishment than I did out of a grocery store."

He wrote about high school English teachers, Catholic pen pals, rural colleges, and small-town life. A New York Times reviewer called Jon Hassler "a writer good enough to restore your faith in fiction. Unlike so many contemporary writers, he creates characters you come to care about and believe in. His subjects are life, love and death — what the best novels have always been about — and he writes with wisdom and grace."

His novels include Staggerford (1977), A Green Journey (1985), Rookery Blues (1995), The Dean's List (1998), and, most recently, A Guy Named Conlan (2006).

It's the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, born in Zundert, Holland (1853). He painted sunflowers, starry nights, wheat fields, and self-portraits, and his work was just beginning to be acknowledged when he committed suicide at the age of 37. When he was 20, he went to work for an art dealer in London, then went off to Brussels to study to become an evangelist, and then went as a missionary to the coal miners in southwestern Belgium. One day he decided to give away all of his worldly goods and live like a peasant. But his religious superiors thought he was having a nervous breakdown. They kicked him out of the mission, and he had to go home.

It was then that he started to draw and paint. He taught himself with art books and by studying the masters. He was especially interested in painting the daily life of peasants, and he began a collection of clothing that had been worn by fishermen, miners, and other laborers.

For the next 10 years, from 1880 to 1890, he painted fast and furiously. He eventually settled in Arles, in southern France, where he said he could "look at nature under a brighter sky." It was in Arles that he began to develop the style he became known for, in which the images of flowers and trees and landscapes are exaggerated by extremely rough brush strokes and vivid colors. He believed that his paintings should convey the mood he was in when he painted them, and he painted extremely quickly so that his mood would not change before he finished. To get the job done, he often squeezed tubes of oil paint directly onto the canvas.

His brother Theo was an art dealer, and for years he had supplied Van Gogh with a small monthly stipend. In return, Van Gogh gave his brother every canvas he painted. He wrote thousands of letters to Theo. "How much sadness there is in life," he wrote. "The right thing is to work." He moved to a small town north of Paris and painted feverishly until insanity overtook him. He cut off part of his own ear and was placed in an asylum at St. Rémy. One of his greatest paintings, Starry Night (1889), was painted while he was confined there. He left the asylum for good in the spring of 1890. In July, just as he was starting to receive favorable attention for his work, he committed suicide. Shortly before he died, he wrote "I feel a failure."

It's the birthday of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey, (books by this author) born John Casey in Dublin, Ireland (1880).

His two best-known plays also premiered at the Abbey Theatre. They are Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926). In The Plough and the Stars, the husband of a young, pregnant Dublin woman goes off to fight for the IRA. He dies in battle, leaving his wife alone with her baby. The play portrayed the leaders of the movement as half-wits, and the conflict as one in which men slaughtered each other indiscriminately while their wives and mothers, the sane ones, cleaned up after them. During the fourth performance of the play at the Abbey Theatre, a riot broke out in the audience. People were outraged to see their national heroes portrayed as cruel, uncaring animals. The Abbey Theatre refused to produce his next play, and O'Casey bitterly left Ireland forever.

He once said, "All the world's a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."

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

 









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