Mar. 3, 2013
This Was Once a Love Poem
This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.
It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie. Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.
Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen. It spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.
The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus. Yes, it decides:
many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them-one, then another-
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.
It was on this day in 1931 that "The Star-Spangled Banner" became the official national anthem of the United States.
The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key more than a century before, "Defence of Fort McHenry." He'd spent a night toward the end of the War of 1812 hearing the British navy bombard Baltimore, Maryland. The bombardment lasted 25 hours — and in the dawn's early light, Francis Scott Key emerged to see the U.S. flag still waving over Fort McHenry. He jotted the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry" on the back of an envelope. Then he went to his hotel and made another copy, which was printed in the Baltimore American a week later.
The tune for the "Star-Spangled Banner" comes from an old British drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," which was very popular at men's social clubs in London during the 1700s. Francis Scott Key himself did the pairing of the tune to his poem. It was a big hit.
For the next century, a few different anthems were used at official U.S. ceremonies, including "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "Hail Columbia." The U.S. Navy adopted "The Star-Spangled Banner" for its officialdom in 1889, and the presidency did in 1916. But it wasn't until this day in 1931 — just 82 years ago — that Congress passed a resolution and Hoover signed into law the decree that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the official national anthem of the United States of America.
Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata was published on this date in 1802. Its real name is the slightly less evocative "Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Opus 27, No. 2," and its Italian subtitle is translated as "almost a fantasy." In 1832, five years after Beethoven's death, a German critic compared the sonata to the effect of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne, and the interpretation became so popular that, by the end of the century, the piece was universally known as the "Moonlight Sonata." Beethoven himself had attributed the emotion of the piece to sitting at the bedside of a friend who had suffered an untimely death.
Time magazine was first published on this date in 1923. The first weekly news magazine in the United States, Time was founded by Henry Luce and Briton Hadden, who had worked together on the Yale Daily News. With an initial subscribership of 9,000, circulation manager Roy Larsen built the magazine's sales through advertising and short programs on the radio and in movie theaters.
It's the birthday of the host of This American Life: Ira Glass, born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1959. He got into radio, he says, "totally by accident." It was 1978, he was 19, had just finished his freshman year of college, and was looking for a summer job with an ad agency or a TV station. He managed to talk his way into an internship with NPR despite the fact he'd never listened to public radio. He started out as a tape cutter and as a desk assistant, graduated from Brown University, and continued working for public radio as newscast writer, editor, producer of All Things Considered, reporter, and substitute host. He moved to Chicago in 1989, and in 1995, he launched This American Life. The programs usually feature an in-depth look at the lives of ordinary people; sometimes the stories are sad, sometimes ironic, sometimes funny.
It's the birthday of the poet James Merrill (books by this author), born in New York City (1926). His father was the co-founder of Merrill Lynch. With an ample trust fund, James never had to worry about money, so he was free to devote himself to poetry. But even though he was wealthy himself, he was sensitive to the fact that most artists weren't, so he created the Ingram Merrill Foundation in 1956, with a permanent endowment for writers and painters. His several collections of poetry include The Changing Light at Sandover (1982), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®