Jan. 1, 2013

The Country Wife

by Dana Gioia

She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.
Following their voices on the breeze,
She makes her way. Through the dark trees
The distant stars are all she sees.
They cannot light the way she's gone.
She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.

The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water.
She cannot see the winds that break
The night reflected on the lake
But knows they motion for her sake.
These are the choices they have brought her:
The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water.

"The Country Wife" by Dana Gioia, from Daily Horoscope. © Graywolf Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is New Year's Day, the day you are supposed to start working on all those resolutions that you made last night. As Abraham Lincoln said, "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other."

Today is the birthday of former Arizona senator Barry Goldwater, born in Phoenix (1909). He worked in his family's department store right out of college, and got his pilot's license. He served in the Air Force Reserve during World War II, and flying would remain a lifelong passion. He made his first foray into public office in 1949, when he ran for a position on the Phoenix City Council. He didn't intend to make politics his life's work, but he enjoyed campaigning.

Dwight Eisenhower once told him, "Barry, you speak too quick and too loud." Goldwater, who had called the Eisenhower administration "a dime store New Deal," agreed with Ike's assessment. He admitted, "There are words of mine floating around in the air that I would like to reach up and eat." When he accepted the Republican nomination in the 1964 presidential election, he said, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and [...] moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." He had borrowed the phrase from Cicero, but it only cemented the public's view of him as a warmonger whose solution to every conflict was nuclear war.

Goldwater called Johnson "the phoniest individual that ever came around"; Johnson called Goldwater "a raving, ranting demagogue."

Although his presidential ambitions were dashed when Johnson handed him a resounding defeat, Goldwater served five terms in the United States Senate and revitalized a Republican Party that most people had written off.

It was on this day in 1660 that Samuel Pepys began keeping a diary (books by this author). Pepys kept his diary for nearly a decade; he wrote about the plague of 1665, the Great Fire of 1666, and the coronation of Charles II. He recorded great scientific discoveries and mundane items as well: his diet, toilet habits, marriage and affairs, and social events that he had been to. He was always very candid about his insecurities and petty jealousies, and he didn't mind sharing a bit of gossip. He left behind a delightfully detailed portrait of Restoration England. He didn't intend to make it public; in fact, he wrote it in shorthand, so that it couldn't be read at a casual glance. He even hid some racy passages in a code made up of a mixture of Italian, Spanish, and French. He kept the diary for nearly 10 years, and finally gave it up when he began to suffer from eye strain.

His first entry begins: "Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three. My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again."

The hymn "Amazing Grace" was first presented at a prayer meeting in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England, on this date in 1773. Vicar John Newton had jotted down the verses in the attic room where he wrote his sermons. The hymn's theme of redemption was something Newton was keenly familiar with. He had been a sailor as a young man, but an unruly and insubordinate one. One captain called him the most profane man he had ever met, and that was not an easy title to earn among sailors. He was pressed into the Royal Navy, eventually deserted, and then got into the slave trade. In 1748, aboard the slave ship Greyhound, Newton called out to God to save him during a violent storm. It wasn't the first time he had found religion in times of crisis, but this was the first time it stuck. Even so, his conversion was gradual, and he stayed with the slave trade for several more years.

After Newton became ordained in 1764 and was offered the curacy of Olney, he often shared his own struggles with temptation and sin in his sermons, something his largely illiterate parishioners appreciated. He was devoted to his congregation, and took an active interest in their daily lives. He struck up a friendship with poet William Cowper, and together they published Olney Hymns, which included "Amazing Grace."

The hymn was written in a standard meter, and was sung to a variety of tunes. Sometimes it wasn't even sung at all; it was just chanted. It wasn't until 1835 that it was linked to the melody that we know today.

Today is the birthday of E.M. Forster (books by this author), born Edward Morgan Forster in London (1879). In 1901, he began a novel that he called Lucy. It was about a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, who travels to Italy with her nervous and spinsterish older cousin. It eventually became his third published novel, A Room With a View (1908). He had his first big success with Howards End (1910), a novel about the class system in England as revealed through three families: the Wilcoxes, who are upper-middle-class capitalists; the Schlegels, who are left-wing intellectuals; and the Basts, who are struggling to rise above working class. After publishing four books in five years, Forster didn't produce another novel until A Passage to India (1924), 14 years later. It was the last book he published in his lifetime.

From Howards End: "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."

It's the birthday of J.D. Salinger (books by this author), born Jerome David Salinger in New York City (1919). The notably reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye (1951) died in 2010, at the age of 91, after 50 years spent avoiding the public eye as much as possible. But the public never lost interest in him, and in fact the press seemed to enjoy the challenge of trying to ferret out information about the author. Ian Hamilton approached him in 1984, asking permission to write his biography; Salinger turned him down, telling his would-be biographer that he had "borne all the exploitation and loss of privacy I can possibly bear in a single lifetime." But Hamilton went ahead and published an unauthorized version. Salinger sued him, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Salinger eventually won.

In 1998, a woman named Joyce Maynard published her memoir, At Home in the World. In it, she recounted her 10-month affair with Salinger. He had written her a fan letter when she was a college freshman, after he read an essay she'd published in The New York Times Magazine. After a summer of letters back and forth, Maynard dropped out of Yale and moved in with him; they lived together for almost a year, and in her account, he was eccentric and controlling. Three years later, Salinger's daughter, Margaret, also published her own memoir, Dreamcatcher (2001). She also talked about her father's quirks, adding that he was abusive, self-centered, and expected his children to live up to fictional ideals. Her brother, Matthew, responded to the book by saying his sister had "a troubled mind."

J.D. Salinger, who said: "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It's peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."

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




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