Sunday

Jul. 12, 2009

Black Islands

by Martin Espada

for Darío

At Isla Negra,
between Neruda's tomb
and the anchor in the garden,
a man with stonecutter's hands
lifted up his boy of five
so the boy's eyes could search mine.
The boy's eyes were black olives.
Son, the father said, this is a poet,
like Pablo Neruda
.
The boy's eyes were black glass.
My son is called Darío,
for the poet of Nicaragua
,
the father said.
The boy's eyes were black stones.
The boy said nothing,
searching my face for poetry,
searching my eyes for his own eyes.
The boy's eyes were black islands.

"Black Islands" by Martín Espada, from The Republic of Poetry. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the man who said: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." That's Henry David Thoreau, (books by this author) born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He grew up exploring the woods and fields of Massachusetts, encouraged by his mother to learn as much as he could from nature. He went to Harvard, but he didn't like it very much — he refused a diploma since it cost five dollars. He worked for a while in his father's pencil factory, and as a public school teacher, and he became close friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1841, the Emersons invited Thoreau to live with them and work as a handyman and gardener, and he helped take care of their children, taking them on nature walks and telling them stories. Thoreau stayed with the Emersons for two years, and during that time he worked on his writing, and through Emerson, became friends with many of the Transcendentalists. In 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife rented some property from Emerson and moved to the area. When he first met Thoreau in 1842, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in his journal: "Mr. Thoreau dined with us yesterday. He is a singular character — a young man with much of wild original nature still remaining in him; and so far as he is sophisticated, it is in a way and method of his own. He is as ugly as sin, long-nosed, queer-mouthed, and with uncouth and rustic, though courteous manners, corresponding very well with such an exterior." The two became good friends, and Thoreau planted a garden for the Hawthornes and did maintenance work for Ellery Channing and his wife.

In 1844, Emerson bought land on the shore of Walden Pond. Walden Pond was a pristine, 61-acre pond, surrounded by woods, and Emerson agreed to let his friend live on the land and build a cabin there. People often assume that Thoreau went out into the wilderness to write his famous treatise on nature, but in fact, he was living less than two miles from the village of Concord. He had regular dinners with friends, continued to do odd jobs for the Emersons, and had frequent visitors. The book he was so committed to writing at Walden Pond was called A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, about a trip he had taken with his brother. He finished it and published it himself, but it was a flop — he sold fewer than 300 copies.

But during the two years he was at Walden Pond, he also kept a journal, and after he left, he put it together as a manuscript. In 1854, he published Walden, or Life in the Woods, which has become a beloved classic.

The Thoreau Society was founded in 1941, making it the oldest society devoted to an American author. It's also the largest. Every July, there is a four-day gathering at Walden Pond to celebrate Thoreau's birthday.

In the conclusion to Walden, Thoreau wrote, "I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

It's the birthday of poet and politician Pablo Neruda, (books by this author) born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto,  in Parral, Chile (1904). As a boy, he read all the time and wrote poetry. Even though his father disapproved of his writing, he kept doing it, and he was encouraged by the poet Gabriela Mistral, who lived in his town and later became the first Chilean to win a Nobel Prize. In 1923, when the boy was 19, he sold all his possessions in order to publish his first book, Crepusculario (Twilight), and he published it under the name Pablo Neruda so his father wouldn't be upset. In 1924, he published Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada, known in English as Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which was incredibly successful.

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

 









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