Mar. 6, 2009


by Jane Hirshfield

In every instant, two gates.
One opens to fragrant paradise, one to hell.
Mostly we go through neither.

Mostly we nod to our neighbor,
lean down to pick up the paper,
go back into the house.

But the faint cries—ecstasy? horror?
Or did you think it the sound
of distant bees,
making only the thick honey of this good life?

"Bees" by Jane Hirshfield from The Lives of the Heart. © Harper Perennial, 1997. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, (books by this author) born near Durham, England (1806).

It's the birthday of Michelangelo, born in the village of Caprese, Italy (1475). His first major work of art was the Pietà, a marble statue of the Madonna holding the dead Christ in her arms. The figures were perfectly balanced and carved from a single block of marble. The story was that after the statue had been put on display, Michelangelo went to see it and overheard a crowd of people praising its beauty. Someone asked who had made it, and another replied that it was il Gobbo, from Milan. That night, Michelangelo locked himself in with the statue and carved an inscription on the Madonna's robe that reads "Michelangelo Buonarroti the Florentine made this." It was the only work he ever signed.

It's the birthday of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez, (books by this author) born in Aracataca, Colombia (1928). He was the oldest of 12 children. His father, Gabriel Eligio García, was a telegraph operator and medical school dropout. He fathered four illegitimate children before wooing Luisa Márquez, the daughter of a leftist colonel who strongly opposed the romance. But Gabriel Eligio was determined to marry Luisa, and her father finally relented. Gabriel García Márquez used the story of his parents' courtship in Love in the Time of Cholera (1985).

Shortly after birth, he was sent to live with his grandparents in a big gloomy house. His grandmother told him folktales full of ghosts and omens and supernatural events. And his grandfather, the leftist colonel, was the most important person in his life. The colonel had fought in two civil wars, and he often told his grandson, "You can't imagine how much a dead man weighs." He took the boy to the circus every year, and he introduced him to ice. García Márquez used that memory in the opening lines of his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

His family wanted him to go to law school, and he gave it a try, but he hated it. After five years, he left without earning a degree. He worked as a reporter in Europe and Venezuela, and settled in Mexico City. For several years, he wrote no fiction. Then one day he was driving between Mexico City and Acapulco, and the whole first chapter of One Hundred Years of Solitude came to him. He went home and told his wife not to disturb him with any problems, and he spent the next 18 months writing, shut in a room for eight to 10 hours a day. His wife sold their car, pawned household appliances, and applied for loan after loan.

The first printing in 1967 sold out before the end of the week, and One Hundred Years of Solitude has now sold about 30 million copies. Pablo Neruda called the work "perhaps the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes."

García Márquez said, "Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry."

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




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