Apr. 8, 2012
Over there on the dining room table
are just twenty-five of the thousands of essays
on the poetry of Robert Frost
produced this week alone in the USA,
the world leader in essays on Robert Frost.
The essays are about ambiguity
in The Road Not Taken, and also ambiguity
in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.
Every year the English majors of America
must read these poems and analyze their ambiguity
or compare and contrast their ambiguity
in five double-spaced pages.
And the English teachers of America must read these pages
and determine whether they are incisive or not incisive.
I am one of those teachers. I try to do my share.
Because if we don't do this—if Frost's ambiguity
is not discussed, and if these discussions are not assessed,
and then finally graded—well, what's the point of all this?
What are we doing here?
I must walk over to the dining room table
and determine whether the essays are incisive or not incisive.
And yet two days have passed, an entire weekend,
and it's Sunday evening and I am having a glass of wine
and the essays on ambiguity in the poetry of Robert Frost
remain unassessed by me, and this is getting very serious.
Today is the Christian holiday of Easter Sunday, the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion. Easter is a moveable feast; in other words, it's one of the few floating holidays in the calendar year, because it's based on the cycles of the moon. Jesus was said to have risen from the dead on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. For that reason, Easter can fall as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th. Easter also marks the end of the 40-day period of Lent and the beginning of Eastertide; the week before Easter is known as Holy Week and includes the religious holidays Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
The word "Easter" and most of the secular celebrations of the holiday come from pagan traditions. Anglo Saxons worshipped Eostre, the goddess of springtime and the return of the sun after the long winter. According to legend, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning it into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit became our Easter Bunny. Eggs were a symbol of fertility in part because they used to be so scarce during the winter. There are records of people giving each other decorated eggs at Easter as far back as the 11th century.
Buddhists celebrate the birthday of Buddha today. Gautama Buddha was born Prince Siddhartha in India, in the sixth century B.C.E., and his parents were told by mystics that he would grow up to be either a great political leader or a supremely enlightened teacher. He was raised in luxury, married, and fathered a son, but when he was 29, he wanted to see the world outside the palace walls. He began taking short trips outside the palace, where he encountered suffering for the first time. He was amazed at how serene people managed to be in the midst of all their pain and sickness, and so he traveled the land for six years, studying meditation and living the life of an ascetic. When he was 35, he outlined the basic tenets of Buddhism, its "four noble truths." They are: 1) the nature of life is suffering; 2) suffering is caused by human cravings; 3) there is relief from suffering in the state of Nirvana, which is attainable; and 4) Nirvana is attainable by following an eightfold path to self-improvement.
Today is the birthday of Barbara Kingsolver (books by this author), born in Annapolis, Maryland (1955). She was working on a Ph.D. thesis on the social lives of termites when she decided to abandon it and become a writer. Kingsolver wrote her novel The Bean Trees (1988) about a woman from rural Kentucky who leaves home so she won't get stuck in a boring, dead-end life. She wrote the book while she was pregnant with her first child, and suffering from insomnia.
The Bean Trees was a huge success, and Kingsolver went on to write many more novels, including The Poisonwood Bible (1998), about the wife and four daughters of an evangelical Baptist minister who go as missionaries to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Her most recent novel is The Lacuna (2009).
Today is the birthday of the American astronomer, mathematician, and surveyor David Rittenhouse, born near Germantown, Pennsylvania (1732). He built one of the first telescopes in America, and used a real spider's silk to form the crosshairs in the eyepiece. He used his telescope to study the transit of Venus, and determined that the planet has an atmosphere. He was also a surveyor, and determined part of the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, although he didn't enjoy the work. He said, "I found it a very laborious affair; being obliged, singly, to go through a number of intricate calculations." During the Revolutionary War, Rittenhouse worked as a weapons engineer, improving designs for cannons and rifles. George Washington named him first director of the United States Mint in 1792. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson held Rittenhouse in high regard, and Philadelphia's Southwest Square was renamed "Rittenhouse Square" in his honor in 1825.
Congress approved the formation of the Works Progress Administration on this date in 1935. The WPA was created by President Franklin Roosevelt to relieve the economic hardship of the Great Depression. The program employed more than 8.5 million people on 1.4 million public projects before it was disbanded in 1943. Many of the WPA's projects involved manual labor, but it also included literary and arts programs like the Federal Writers' Project, which gave jobs to writers such as Nelson Algren, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, and Richard Wright. Critics of the program said it encouraged laziness and shoddy work, and claimed the acronym really stood for "We Poke Along," but Nelson Algren said: "Had it not been for [the Writers' Project], the suicide rate would have been much higher. It gave new life to people who had thought their lives were over."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®