Mar. 13, 2013
After Wang Wei
Twilight comes to the little farm
At winter's end. The snowbanks
High as the eaves, which melted
And became pitted during the day,
Are freezing again, and crunch
Under the dog's foot. The mountains
From their place behind our shoulders
Lean close a moment, as if for a
Final inspection, but with kindness,
A benediction as the darkness
Falls. It is my fiftieth year. Stars
Come out, one by one with a softer
Brightness, like the first flowers
Of spring. I hear the brook stirring,
Trying its music beneath the ice.
I hear - almost, I am not certain -
Remote tinklings; perhaps sheepbells
On the green side of a juniper hill
Or wineglasses on a summer night.
But no. My wife is at her work,
There behind yellow windows. Supper
Will be soon. I crunch the icy snow
And tilt my head to study the last
Silvery light of the western sky
In the pine boughs. I smile. Then
I smile again, just because I can.
I am not an old man. Not yet.
On this date in 2003, the journal Nature reported the discovery of 350,000-year-old fossilized human footprints in Italy. They are arguably the oldest known human footprints; an older set, dating back three and a half million years, was discovered in Tanzania in 1979, but they probably belonged to hominids not directly related to our species, Homo sapiens.
The Italian footprints reported in Nature are about eight inches long and four inches wide, and their makers were probably no taller than five feet.
It's the birthday of journalist Janet Flanner (books by this author), born in Indianapolis (1892). Flanner got kicked out of the University of Chicago for being a "rebellious influence." She went back to Indianapolis, and worked for The Indianapolis Star as a film critic, one of the first in the nation. She was particularly interested in crime and moved to Pennsylvania to work at a girl's reformatory. In 1922, she took a trip to Europe and ended up settling in Paris. From there, she began writing long letters to her friends in America, including to Jane Grant, with whom she had helped found the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought to allow women to keep and use legally their maiden name after marriage. Grant was the wife of Harold Ross, who was starting a new magazine, and she asked if Flanner would write a regular letter from Paris for the magazine.
Her first "Letter from Paris" appeared in The New Yorker in September of 1925, and she continued writing it for 50 years. It became a biweekly feature of the magazine in which she wrote about how public political news affected private lives. Without telling her, Ross gave Flanner the pen name Genet, which he thought was the French name for Janet, but is actually the French word for female donkey.
It's the birthday of science fiction writer and Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard (books by this author), born in Tilden, Nebraska (1911). He enrolled in George Washington University in 1930 to study civil engineering but was placed on academic probation because of poor grades, and he left after two semesters. In 1950, he wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which formed the basis of the Church of Scientology's teaching. The book explains that humans have "engrams," recordings of painful events experienced in the past, stored in their subconscious and that these are the basis of physical and emotional problems. In order to be cleared of these engrams and unwanted spiritual conditions, a person takes part in an "auditing" session, where a counselor uses an Electropsychometer, or E-Meter, to measure the mental state of a person, helping to locate areas of spiritual distress so they can be addressed and handled in a session. The book became a best-seller and sold 150,000 copies within a year of publication.
It was on this day in 1881 that Henrik Ibsen's (books by this author) play Ghosts opened on the London stage. Ghosts was considered a controversial play with references to incest and sexually transmitted diseases, and Ibsen refused to give his audiences the happy endings they were used to. The play had already been banned in St. Petersburg on religious grounds when it premiered in London.
The first performance alone of Ghosts caused more than 500 printed articles to be written in response to it, and Ibsen became a household name even to people who had never seen the play or read a book. Henrik Ibsen died in 1906 when he was 79. He was given a state funeral, and King Haakon of Norway attended.
Henrik Ibsen wrote in Act 2: "I almost think we're all of us Ghosts. ... It's not only what we have invited from our father and mother that walks in us. It's all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see Ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be Ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sand of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®