Sunday

Jun. 9, 2013

Enriching the Earth

by Wendell Berry

To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and of various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. I am slowly falling
into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass. It is the mind's service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth. And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.

"Enriching the Earth" by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems. © North Point Press, 1985. Reprinted with the permission of the author. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Cole Porter, born in Peru, Indiana (1891). He was a composer and lyricist, and he wrote a string of hit songs: "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Night and Day," "You're the Top," "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love," "I've got You Under My Skin," and "Let's Misbehave." All of these songs were written within a 10-year period: between his first popular Broadway musical, Paris (1928) — his first musicals had been complete flops — and a terrible riding accident in 1937. Porter was at a party at the New York home of the Countess Edith di Zoppola when his horse rolled and crushed his legs. He claimed that he didn't realize how badly he was hurt and that while someone ran for help he finished up the lyrics to "You Never Know." But he was in fact seriously injured — the doctors insisted that his right leg be amputated, maybe his left as well. Porter refused. He preferred to be in intense pain than be missing a leg.

He lived with the pain for more than 20 years, and he continued to write songs, but never at the same rate of success as he had before his accident. In 1958, after 34 operations on his leg, he finally agreed to have it amputated. The playwright Noel Coward went to visit Porter in the hospital, and he said: "He has at last had his leg amputated and the lines of ceaseless pain have been wiped from his face. He is a bit fretful about having to manage his new leg but he will get over that. I think if I had had to endure all those years of agony I would have had the damned thing off at the beginning, but it is a cruel decision to have to make and involves much sex vanity and many fears of being repellent. However, it is now done at last and I am convinced that his whole life will cheer up and that his work will profit accordingly." But Porter never recovered. He told friends, "I am only half a man now." And never wrote another song. He died in 1964 at the age of 73.

The critic Alfred Kazin said of Porter: "The wit of his words depended on his ability to raise the audience immediately to his own level — and keep it there. The instant happiness that Porter gave his audience is the kind that becomes history."

It was on this day in 1870 that the novelist Charles Dickens died (books by this author); he had a stroke and fell off his chair at the dinner table.

Dickens asked to be buried "in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner," so even though he was buried in Westminster Abbey, it was a secret funeral, early in the morning, with only 12 mourners. But the grave was left open for a week and thousands of people, all types of people, came to throw in flowers for the man whose tomb is inscribed with the words "He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England's greatest writers is lost to the world."

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