Tuesday

Aug. 20, 2013

The Old Flame

by Robert Lowell

My old flame, my wife!
Remember our lists of birds?
One morning last summer, I drove
by our house in Maine. It was still
on top of its hill—

Now a red ear of Indian maize
was splashed on the door.
Old Glory with thirteen stars
hung on a pole. The clapboard
was old-red schoolhouse red.

Inside, a new landlord,
a new wife, a new broom!
Atlantic seaboard antique shop
pewter and plunder
shone in each room.

A new frontier!
No running next door
now to phone the sheriff
for his taxi to Bath
and the State Liquor Store!

No one saw your ghostly
imaginary lover
stare through the window,
and tighten
the scarf at his throat.

Health to the new people,
health to their flag, to their old
restored house on the hill!
Everything had been swept bare,
furnished, garnished and aired.

Everything's changed for the best—
how quivering and fierce we were,
there snowbound together,
simmering like wasps
in our tent of books!

Poor ghost, old love, speak
with your old voice
of flaming insight
that kept us awake all night.
In one bed and apart,

we heard the plow
groaning up hill—
a red light, then a blue,
as it tossed off the snow
to the side of the road.

"The Old Flame" by Robert Lowell, from Collected Poems. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1977 that Voyager 2 was launched by NASA to explore the planets of our solar system and to take the first up-close photographs of the giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Just before the Voyagers took off, a committee of scientists, led by Carl Sagan, decided to put on board each Voyager a message from Earth in case extraterrestrials ever found them. At the time, the Cold War was at its height, and some members of the committee considered that these spacecraft and their contents might be the last traces of the human race left in the universe after a nuclear war. The Voyagers were each equipped with a gold-plated phonograph containing a variety of earthly sounds, including a heartbeat, a mother's kiss, wind, rain, surf, a chimpanzee, footsteps, laughter, the music of Bach and Mozart, and the Chuck Berry song "Johnny Be Good." Carl Sagan said, "The launching of this bottle into the cosmic ocean says something very hopeful about life on this planet."

Today, the Voyagers have traveled farther from Earth than any other human-made objects in history. Both have gone well beyond Pluto, the farthest planet from the sun. Voyager 2, which launched on this day in 1977, is currently approaching the outer limits of our solar system, headed toward Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.

It's the birthday of the gothic horror author H.P. [Howard Philips] Lovecraft (books by this author), born in Providence, Rhode Island (1890). As a young man, he became a recluse, sleeping during the day and reading and writing at night. And for a long time, Lovecraft had little contact with the outside world, until it occurred to him that he could support himself as a writer.

At the time, most horror stories were about ghosts and vampires, but Lovecraft wrote about his fear of modern science. He believed that people like Albert Einstein were learning too much about the secrets of the universe, and that those secrets could destroy us. He began to write stories about scholars who accidentally stumble onto the horrible knowledge of lost, monstrous Gods.

He began to publish his stories in pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Astounding Stories. He never made much money from these stories, so he also worked as a ghostwriter, and among his clients was the escape artist Harry Houdini.

Lovecraft said, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

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

 









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