Tuesday

Mar. 20, 2012

Spring

by Mary Oliver

Somewhere
    a black bear
      has just risen from sleep
         and is staring

down the mountain.
    All night
      in the brisk and shallow restlessness
         of early spring

I think of her,
    her four black fists
      flicking the gravel,
         her tongue

like a red fire
    touching the grass,
      the cold water.
         There is only one question:

how to love this world.
    I think of her
      rising
         like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
    the silence
      of the trees.
         Whatever else

my life is
    with its poems
      and its music
         and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
    coming
      down the mountain,
         breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
    her white teeth,
      her wordlessness,
         her perfect love.

"Spring" by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems. © Beacon Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the first day of spring, or the vernal equinox, when the earth's axis is aligned with the center of the sun. The word equinox comes from Latin: aequus means equal, level, or calm; nox means night, or darkness. The equinox, in spring or fall,is a time when the day and night are as close to equal as they ever are, and when the hours of night are exactly equal for people living equidistant from the equator either north or south.

Robert Frost wrote: "Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today; / And give us not to think so far away / As the uncertain harvest; keep us here / All simply in the springing of the year."

It's the birthday of dime novelist Ned Buntline, (books by this author) born Edward Zane Carroll Judson in Stamford, New York (1813). As a boy, he got in a fight with his father and ran away to sea. He started out as a cabin boy, but as a teenager he rescued the drowning crew of a boat, and President Van Buren was so impressed that he appointed the young man a midshipman, a low-rank officer.

After a few years at sea, he decided to take up writing sensational adventure stories. He started out writing about gangs and violence in New York — he had firsthand knowledge of that world, being involved in gang wars himself.

After years of setting his popular dime novels in the seedy underbelly of New York, he took a trip out West and realized that it was the ideal setting for the type of stories he wanted to tell. He met Buffalo Bill Cody and adapted his adventures into wildly popular and exaggerated stories, a series called Buffalo Bill Cody — King of the Border Men. He made the stories into a play, Scouts of the Prairie, and he managed to convince the reluctant Buffalo Bill to play a cameo role, as himself. Buffalo Bill and Ned were terrible actors, and the play was critically disparaged, but Scouts of the Prairie was a commercial and financial hit, and it toured all over the country. Ned Buntline and Buffalo Bill parted ways after that, but Buntline had made the Western hero so famous that he was able to open his own show, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," and Bill's story had set Buntline on his path to earn more money from his writing than any other author in the country, though what he wrote was trash.

Buntline's life was one big adventure, and he didn't slow down even after he became wealthy and famous. He fought in the Everglades in the Second Seminole War, and was an officer in the Civil War until he was given a dishonorable discharge for drunkenness. He went around preaching temperance at lectures, usually while drunk.  He incited several riots. He got in plenty of trouble with women too — he was married seven times and was jailed for bigamy. At one point, he was flirting with a married teenager named Mary Porterfield. Her husband, Robert, challenged Buntline to a duel, which of course he accepted, and he killed Robert Porterfield. The angry townspeople attempted to lynch Buntline, and in fact they strung him up hanged him from an awning post. At the last minute, his friends cut the rope and he managed to survive.

It's the birthday of the playwright Henrik Ibsen (books by this author), born in Skien, Norway (1828). One of his best-known plays is A Doll's House (1879), the story of a woman named Nora who is stuck in an unsatisfying marriage. The play ends with Nora slamming the door and walking out on her husband. Ibsen was so well-known, and his ending was so shocking to 19th-century viewers, that it was known as "the door slam heard around the world."

It was on this day in 1852 that Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was published (books by this author). She lived with her husband in Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a slave state. She was upset by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which forced both authorities and private individuals in the Northern free states to cooperate with the slave states to track down and return slaves. So she decided to write a book about slavery. She couldn't figure out a plot, until one day, while she was in church, she had a vision of an old slave. He became Uncle Tom, and she started writing. In 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin was published, selling 10,000 copies in its first week, and about 2 million copies by 1857.

It's the birthday of the Roman poet Ovid (books by this author), born Publius Ovidius Naso in what is now Sulmo, Italy (43 B.C.) He became a famous, beloved poet in Rome, privy to the inner circles of the court. He published erotic poems, including his Ars Amatoria (2 C.E.),whichinstructed people on the arts of seduction and lovemaking. And he wrote Metamorphoses (8 C.E.), for which he is best remembered today, which traces Greek and Roman mythology through the lens of humans' metamorphoses into other objects — plants, stones, stars, and animals.

But then suddenly, in 8 C.E., he was exiled, and even today nobody knows why. In his writings, he talks about Emperor Augustus' anger toward him, and he alludes to having seen something he shouldn't have seen, but nothing more specific. Whatever the reason, Ovid was sent to Tomi, in what is now Romania, and he was isolated and lonely, longing for his beloved Rome. But even after Augustus died, the next emperor, Tiberius, did not allow Ovid back, and he died in Tomi after about 10 years in exile.

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

 









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