Wednesday

Jun. 23, 2010

Outscape

by Charles Wright

There's no way to describe how the light splays
                                                    after the storm, under the clouds
Still piled like Armageddon
Back to the west, the northwest,
                                                 intent on incursion.

There's no way to picture it,
                                          though others have often tried to.
Here in the mountains it's like a ricochet from a sea surge,
Meadow grass moving like sea stalks
                                                        in the depths of its brilliance.

"Outscape" by Charles Wright, from Sestets. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Tonight is Midsummer Night's Eve, also called St. John's Eve. St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers. It's a time when the hives are full of honey. The full moon that occurs this month was called the Mead Moon, because honey was fermented to make mead. That's where the word "honeymoon" comes from, because it's also a time for lovers. An old Swedish proverb says, "Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking." Midsummer dew was said to have special healing powers. In Mexico, people decorate wells and fountains with flowers, candles, and paper garlands. They go out at midnight and bathe in the lakes and streams. Midsummer Eve is also known as Herb Evening. Legend says that this is the best night for gathering magical herbs. Supposedly, a special plant flowers only on this night, and the person who picks it can understand the language of the trees. Flowers were placed under a pillow with the hope of important dreams about future lovers.

Shakespeare (books by this author) set his play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" on this night. It tells the story of two young couples who wander into a magical forest outside Athens. In the play, Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth."

It was on this day in 1868 that the typewriter was patented, by Christopher Sholes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There had been typewriters before, but they weren't very practical — it took longer to type a letter than to write it by hand. In 1873, he sold the patent to the Remington Arms Co., and they brought out the Remington Model 1 in 1874.

It's the birthday of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, (books by this author) born in a suburb of Odessa in 1889. She was a beautiful, fashionable, 22-year-old woman when she published her first collection of poetry in 1912, but it became a sensation. The book was filled with love poems inspired by her affair with the then-unknown Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani. At the time, no Russian woman had ever written so frankly about love, and Akhmatova became a celebrity overnight. Women all over Russia want to be like her, and men all over Russia fell in love with her.

But within a few years, life in Russia became much more complicated, and Akhmatova had a lot more to write about than love affairs. In her poem "In Memoriam July 19, 1914," about the start of World War I, she wrote, "We grew a hundred years older in a single hour."

After the Bolshevik Revolution, most writers and intellectuals tried to flee the country, but Akhmatova and her husband decided to stay. She wrote, "No, not under an alien sky, / Not protected by alien wings, — / I was with my people then, / There, where my people, unfortunately, were." Her husband was shot in 1921 for allegedly participating in an anti-Bolshevik plot, and the following year, the government told her that she would no longer be able to publish her poetry. She began working on translations and more or less stopped writing her own poems.

Then Akhmatova's son was arrested by the government. For 17 months, she went to the prison in Leningrad every day to try to get news about him. There were crowds of other women there, doing the same thing, and one day a woman recognized Akhmatova as the formerly famous poet, and whispered in her ear, "Can you describe this?" That woman's question helped inspire Akhmatova to begin writing her 10-poem cycle "Requiem," which many Russians consider the greatest piece of literature ever written about Stalinist Russia.

By the end of her life, she had gained more freedom, and she'd become one of the most renowned poets in the world. She died on the 13th anniversary of Stalin's death, on March 5, 1966. A complete collection of her poetry didn't come out in the Soviet Union until the late 1980s.

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

 









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