May 20, 2009

Spruce Street, Berkeley

by Naomi Shihab Nye

If a street is named for a tree,
it is right that flowers
bloom purple and feel like cats,
that people are leaves drifting
downhill in morning fog.

Everyone came outside to see
the moon setting like a perfect
orange mouth tipped up to heaven.

Now the cars sleep against curbs.
If I write a letter,
how will I make it long enough?

There is a place to stand
where you can see so many lights
you forget you are one of them.

"Spruce Street, Berkeley" by Naomi Shihab Nye from Yellow Glove. © Far Corner Books, 1986. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day exactly 400 years ago — May 20, 1609 — that the publisher Thomas Thorpe made an entry in the Stationer's Register that said: Entred for his copie under the handes of master Wilson and master Lownes Wardenes a booke called Shakespeares sonnettes, (books by this author) and soon after (we don't know the exact date) Shakespeare's sonnets were published. Many people think that Thorpe published them without Shakespeare's consent.

The 1609 collection contained 154 sonnets, only two of which had been published before. Shakespeare addresses some to a beautiful young man whom he calls "fair youth," and others to "a dark lady."

Shakespeare's sonnets are considered some of the greatest love poems ever written, with such lines as, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?/ Thou art more lovely and more temperate," and, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments; love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds,/Or bends with the remover to remove," and, "For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings/That then I scorn to change my state with kings."

It's the birthday of Honoré de Balzac, (books by this author) born in Tours, France (1799). He devoted most of his life to a huge cycle of novels and plays that he called La Comédie humaine,or The Human Comedy. He wanted La Comédie humaine to address all aspects of French society in the 19th century. Oscar Wilde once said, "The 19th century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac."

Balzac had incredibly energy for writing. He liked to eat a light meal at 5 or 6 p.m., then sleep until midnight, and then get up and write all night and day while drinking cup after cup of strong black coffee. He often wrote for at least 15 hours at a time, and he would keep it up for weeks on end.

He wrote about everyone and everything. By the end of his life, he had written almost 100 novels and plays, and created more than 2,000 characters.He said, "I am not deep, but I am very wide."

It was on this day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. Settlers who paid a filing fee of 10 dollars and agreed to live on a piece of land for at least five consecutive years were given 160 acres for free. By 1900, homesteaders had filed 600,000 claims for 80 million acres. Willa Cather's parents set out to homestead in Nebraska, Laura Ingalls Wilder's parents in South Dakota, Lawrence Welk's family in North Dakota, and George Washington Carver in Kansas.

This was probably the date in 325 A.D. on which the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was called to order. The conference lasted 47 days, until July 25th, and it was held in the city of Nicaea, which is now known as İznik, in northwestern Turkey.

It was 325 years since Jesus had been crucified, but Christianity was still a small and relatively unorganized religion. People had very different beliefs about what Christianity was. Some thought that Jesus was a great man but not a divine figure. Some believed that Jesus was a supernatural being but not really God himself. And then there were the Gnostics, who believed that the God of the Old Testament was an evil God, and that Jesus had come to save humanity from that evil God. Along with the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, there was a Gospel of Thomas, a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and a Gospel of Judas. 

The council established that Jesus was the son of God and that he was also of one being with God. Anyone who refused to accept the decision of the council about Jesus' divinity was exiled, and it led to infighting and persecution among Christians. But within 50 years, about 34 million people had converted to Christianity.

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




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