Monday

Mar. 18, 2013

The Sometime Sportsman Greets the Spring

by John Updike

When winter's glaze is lifted from the greens,
And cups are freshly cut, and birdies sing,
Triumphantly the stifled golfer preens
In cleats and slacks once more, and checks his swing.

This year, he vows, his head will steady be,
His weight-shift smooth, his grip and stance ideal;
And so they are, until upon the tee
Befall the old contortions of the real.

So, too, the tennis-player, torpid from
Hibernal months of television sports,
Perfects his serve and feels his knees become
Sheer muscle in their unaccustomed shorts.

Right arm relaxed, the left controls the toss,
Which shall be high, so that the racket face
Shall at a certain angle sweep across
The floated sphere with gutty strings—an ace!

The mind's eye sees it all until upon
The courts of life the faulty way we played
In other summers rolls back with the sun.
Hope springs eternally, but spring hopes fade.

"The Sometime Sportsman Greets the Spring" by John Updike, from Collected Poems. © Knopf, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist John Updike (books by this author), born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1932). He went to Harvard and got married while he was still a student. His ambition was to be published in The New Yorker, and the year that he graduated from Harvard, he sold the magazine a poem and a short story. But he was also a gifted artist, and he and his wife moved to England so that he could study at Oxford's Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. In England, he met E.B. and Katharine White, who worked at The New Yorker, and they told him he should work for the magazine, and soon he became a staff writer there. But much like E.B. White, he wanted to leave the city for a small town, and so the Updikes relocated to Ipswich, Massachusetts. He's most famous for his books about a regular middle-class man named Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a former small-town Pennsylvania high school basketball star: the novels Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), Rabbit Is Rich (1981), and Rabbit At Rest (1990), and the novella Rabbit Remembered (1991).

He said: "My subject is the American Protestant small-town middle class. I like middles. It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly lies."

It's the birthday of George Plimpton (books by this author), born in New York (1927). He was the founding editor of The Paris Review, a job that he held for 50 years, from 1953 until his death in 2003, and he conducted long, insightful interviews — including one of only two interviews that Hemingway gave in his life.

It's the birthday of writer Manly Hall (books by this author), born in Peterborough, Ontario (1901). He was fascinated by the occult and he traveled all over lecturing. He wrote quite a few books, and he is most famous for The Secret Teachings of All Ages: An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabalistic, and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy (1928). It took him six years to write the book, and during that period he worked for a while on Wall Street, which he hated. He wrote: "I felt strongly moved to explore the problems of humanity, its origin and destiny, and I spent a number of quiet hours in the New York Public Library tracing the confused course of civilization. ... Translations of classical authors could differ greatly, but in most cases the noblest thoughts were eliminated or denigrated. Those more sincere authors whose knowledge of ancient languages was profound were never included as required reading, and scholarship was based largely upon the acceptance of a sterile materialism." So he translated and interpreted the texts himself, and wrote his magnum opus.

It's the birthday of poet Wilfred Owen (books by this author), born in Shropshire, England (1893). When he was young, his family was well-off, living in a house owned by his grandfather, a prominent citizen. But then his grandpa died, and it turned out that the old man was broke, and the family had to leave and move into working-class lodgings in an industrial town.

He started writing poems as a boy, and he was good at literature and science, but he didn't do well enough on his exams to get a scholarship at a university. He enlisted to fight in World War I, and he became a lieutenant. In 1917, he was wounded, diagnosed with shell shock, and sent to a hospital to recuperate. There he met another soldier diagnosed with shell shock, Siegfried Sassoon, who was an established poet and mentored Owen. At the hospital, Owen wrote many of his most famous poems, including "Dulce et Decorum Est" and "Anthem for Doomed Youth." He was one of the first poets to depict the horrifying realities of war, instead of writing glorified, nationalistic poems.

But the next year, he went back to fight, and he was killed in battle at the age of 25. Two years later, Poems of Wilfred Owen (1920) was published.

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

 









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