Jan. 3, 2009

The Palomino Stallion

by Alden Nowlan

Though the barn is so warm
that the oats in his manger,
the straw in his bed
seem to give off smoke —

though the wind is so cold,
the snow in the pasture
so deep he'd fall down
and freeze in an hour —

the eleven-month-old
palomino stallion
has gone almost crazy
fighting and pleading
to be let out.

"The Palomino Stallion" by Alden Nowlan, from Alden Nowlan Selected Poems. © House of Anansi Press, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1882 that the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde docked in New York. Customs asked him if he had anything to declare. Oscar Wilde replied, "Nothing but my genius."

Wilde had come to the United States for a lecture tour, which was set up as a publicity stunt for a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta called Patience (1881), which poked fun at the Aesthetic movement. The producers of the operetta were concerned that the United States wouldn't know what Aestheticism was, since it was a British movement, and that they wouldn't think Patience was funny. So in order to educate the general public about Aestheticism before trying to satirize it, the producers arranged for a lecture tour from England's most prominent Aesthete personality, Oscar Wilde.

Many people thought Wilde was ridiculous. But his lecture tour did well in surprising places, like the rough mining town of Leadville, Colorado, where the miners loved him, and he enjoyed himself, as well. It was there in Leadville that he saw a sign at the local saloon that said, "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best." Oscar Wilde later said that it was "the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across."

It's the birthday of the man who said, "All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost," the man called "the father of modern fantasy," the writer John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien, (books by this author) born in Bloemfontein, South Africa (1892).

His mother taught him Latin and Greek, and then one day he saw Welsh names on the side of railway cars, and he thought it was the most beautiful language in the world. He wanted to learn Welsh and any languages like it. He created simple languages of his own, like Animalic, which came from animal names, and Naffarin, which took elements from Spanish.

Tolkien went on to Oxford, and he studied philology, the study of the origin of languages. He became fluent in many ancient European languages, including Classical Greek, Old Norse, Old English, medieval Welsh and Anglo-Saxon, and an ancient form of German called Gothic.

He became a teacher at Oxford, and he invented his most ambitious language yet, composed entirely of his own alphabet, sounds, and structure. And that was the language High Elvish, spoken by elves. He spent 12 years writing a book that incorporated that language. He said he wrote this new book "to provide a world for the language." He said, "I should have preferred to write the entire book in Elvish." But it was in English, and it was The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien intended it to be one book in three parts, but it was published in three volumes — The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), The Two Towers (1954), and The Return of the King (1955).

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, "I wish life was not so short. Languages take such a time, and so do all the things one wants to know about."

It's the birthday of the Roman orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, born in 106 B.C. in Arpinum, Italy. He believed in the ideal of Rome as a republic at the time that a series of powerful leaders were making it into an empire. Cicero spoke out against those leaders, and he was executed. He believed that speaking well and speaking the truth were inseparable. Many of his rhetorical devices are still used by public speakers today.

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




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