Jan. 27, 2013

A Little Shiver

by Barton Sutter

After the news, the forecaster crowed
With excitement about his bad tidings:
Eighteen inches of snow! Take cover!
A little shiver ran through the community.
Children abandoned their homework.
Who cared about the hypotenuse now?
The snowplow driver laid out his long johns.
The old couple, who'd barked at each other
At supper, smiled shyly, turned off the TV,
And climbed the stairs to their queen-size bed
Heaped high with blankets and quilts.
And the aging husky they failed to hear
Scratch the back door, turned around twice
In the yard, settled herself in the snow,
And covered her nose with her tail.

"A Little Shiver" by Barton Sutter, from The Reindeer Camps. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day 95 years ago, modernist fiction writer Katherine Mansfield (books by this author) wrote to editor and essayist John Middleton Murry, whom she'd been dating for more than seven years:

"It is ten minutes past eight. I must tell you how much I love you at ten minutes past eight on a Sunday evening, January 27th 1918.

I have been indoors all day (except for posting your letter) and I feel greatly rested. Juliette has come back from a new excursion into the country, with blue irises — do you remember how beautifully they grew in that little house with the trellis tower round by the rocks? — and all sort and kinds of sweet-smelling jonquils. The room is very warm. I have a handful of fire, and the few little flames dance on the log and can't make up their minds to attack it.

There goes a train. Now it is quiet again except for my watch. I look at the minute hand and think what a spectacle I shall make of myself when I am really coming home to you. How I shall sit in the railway carriage, and put the old watch in my lap and pretend to cover it with a book — but not read or see, but just whip it up with my longing gaze, and simply make it go faster.

My love for you tonight is so deep and tender that it seems to be outside myself as well. I am fast shut up like a little lake in the embrace of some big mountains. If you were to climb up the mountains, you would see me down below, deep and shining — and quite fathomless, my dear. You might drop your heart into me and you'd never hear it touch bottom.

I love you — I love you — Goodnight. Oh Bogey, what it is to love like this!"

They got married that spring, in early May 1918 — but then split up two weeks after their wedding. They reunited shortly later and moved to a villa in Italy, since Katherine was ill with tuberculosis and they hoped the climate would help her health improve. They fought a lot, and less than a year after their wedding date they had taken to living separately.

But it was during that passionate and tumultuous period after their marriage that Katherine Mansfield Murry worked on her famous short story "The Man Without a Temperament," published in 1920. It's a modernist story about marriage, with not a lot of plot, and it features a woman named Jinnie Salesby, who suffers from chronic heart disease, and her long-suffering husband, Robert. It begins:

"He stood at the hall door turning the ring, turning the heavy signet ring upon his little finger while his glance travelled coolly, deliberately, over the round tables and basket chairs scattered about the glassed-in veranda. He pursed his lips — he might have been going to whistle — but he did not whistle — only turned the ring — turned the ring on his pink, freshly washed hands."

It's the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg, Austria (1756). He only lived for 35 years but he started his career early — a child prodigy from a family of musicians. He toured all over Europe, and wrote his first opera at age 11.

Mozart died at the age of 35 in mysterious circumstances. There is a popular image of him as poor and miserable, working on a funeral requiem as he was dying. But overall, his final year was a good and productive one. He was living in Vienna. He was still getting commissions. He didn't have a lot of money in the year 1791, but then again, he rarely did — he and his wife, Constanze, never seemed able to live on what Mozart made.

It was a busy year. In the first months of 1791, he wrote dance music for the winter balls at the court and the Piano Concerto No. 27. In the summer, a messenger came, asking Mozart to write a requiem for his patron, Count Franz von Walsegg who had lost his wife and wanted to commission a requiem in her honor.

He was working on the opera La Clemenza di Tito to celebrate the coronation of Emperor Leopold as King of Bohemia. It premiered in early September. Three weeks later, his opera The Magic Flute opened in Vienna, and was a big hit. In October, he finished Clarinet Concerto in A. Then a cantata for his Freemason lodge, which he directed himself on November 18th. Finally, he put all his energy toward the Requiem, but just after the performance of his cantata, he became extremely ill. He had a fever, and his whole body was swollen. He continued writing the Requiem right up until his death, which was only two weeks after he became sick. No one knows what Mozart's illness was, and there are dozens of theories: rheumatic fever, tuberculosis, endocarditis, syphilis, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, and poisoning. He died on December 5th, 1791 and was buried in a mass, unmarked grave, a common practice for the middle-class of Vienna.

Mozart said, "Music, in even the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear but always remain a source of pleasure."

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




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