Friday

Dec. 7, 2012

L'Envoi

by Willa Cather

Where are the loves that we have loved before
When once we are alone, and shut the door ?
No matter whose the arms that held me fast,
The arms of Darkness hold me at the last.
No matter down what primrose path I tend,
I kiss the lips of Silence in the end.
No matter on what heart I found delight,
I come again unto the breast of Night.
No matter when or how love did befall,
'Tis Loneliness that loves me best of all,
And in the end she claims me, and I know
That she will stay, though all the rest may go.
No matter whose the eyes that I would keep
Near in the dark, 'tis in the eyes of Sleep
That I must look and look forever more,
When once I am alone, and shut the door.

"L'Envoi" by Willa Cather, from April Twilights. © Amereon House, 1968. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1941). Nearly 2,400 Americans died when Japanese planes attacked the U.S. naval base in Hawaii. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it "a date which will live in infamy." Congress declared war on Japan the following morning, and the United States officially entered World War II.

Forty years ago today, Apollo 17 astronauts took a famous photograph of Earth. It's now known as "The Blue Marble," because that's exactly what our home looks like: a blue marble floating against the vast black velvet backdrop of space. The photograph was the first clear image of the Earth, because the sun was at the astronauts' back, and so the planet appears lit up and you can distinctly see blue, white, brown, and green. You can also see a cyclone forming over the Indian Ocean. The photo became a symbol of the environmental movement of the 1970s.

The crew of Apollo 17 was about 28,000 miles away from Earth when they took the Blue Marble photo. It was the last time that astronauts, not robots, were on a lunar mission — since then, no humans have gotten far enough away from Earth to take a photo like it.

It's the birthday of Willa Cather (books by this author), born near Winchester, Virginia (1873). When she was nine, her father uprooted the family to go homestead in Nebraska. Even though Cather was only a young girl at the time, she never forgot the experience, and later said: "As we drove further and further out into the country, I felt a good deal as if we had come to the end of everything — it was a kind of erasure of personality. I would not know how much a child's life is bound up in the woods and hills and meadows around it, if I had not been thrown out into a country as bare as a piece of sheet iron." They settled in Red Cloud, Nebraska, and though the landscape seemed alien to her at first, she came to love it. She wrote, "Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth is the floor of the sky." She made friends with the immigrants who had come to Nebraska, including a young woman named Annie Sadilek, who would later provide the inspiration for Cather's novel My Ántonia (1918). Cather dressed in boys' clothes and called herself William, and she wanted to be a surgeon. But one day, when she was studying medicine at the University of Nebraska, her English professor secretly submitted one of her essays to the Nebraska State Journal. They published it, and she decided to become a writer instead.

In 1906, Cather moved to New York and had a successful career as a managing editor for McClure's, and she lived in a row house on Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, but she never really fit in with the bohemian Village lifestyle, and she was too busy with her day job to write. After 10 years, she quit her job to write full time. She went on to write a series of novels about the pioneer life of her childhood, including O Pioneers! (1913), My √Āntonia (1918), and Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927).

In O Pioneers!, Cather wrote: "We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it — for a little while."

It's the birthday of Noam Chomsky (books by this author), born in Philadelphia (1928). He first rose to fame as a linguist, with his theory that there is an innate and instinctive impulse to language in the human brain similar to flight in birds and swimming in fish. He wrote about his theory in Syntactic Structures (1957), which he had a hard time getting published because his theories were quite radical at that time. He had a good career ahead of him in linguistics, and had a teaching position at MIT by the time he was 26, but then he got involved in the protest movement during the Vietnam War. He organized a march on the Pentagon, was arrested, and shared a jail cell with Norman Mailer. Since then, he's continued to publish books about linguistics, but he also spends a lot of time writing and talking about foreign policy, political systems, and protest movements. His recent books include The Science of Language (2012) and Power Systems, due out in January 2013.

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

 









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