Thursday

Nov. 28, 2013

Regret

by Louis Jenkins

There's no use in regret. You can't change anything.
Your mother died unhappy with the way you turned
out. You and your father were not on speaking terms
when he died, and you left your wife for no good
reason. Well, it's past. You may as well regret missing
out on the conquest of Mexico. That would have been
just your kind of thing back when you were eighteen:
a bunch of murderous Spaniards, out to destroy a
culture and get rich. On the other hand, the Aztecs
were no great shakes either. It's hard to know whom
to root for in this situation. The Aztecs thought they
had to sacrifice lots of people to keep the sun coming
up every day. And it worked. The sun rose every day.
But it was backbreaking labor, all that sacrificing.
The priests had to call in the royal family to help,
and their neighbors, the gardener, the cooks.... You
can see how this is going to end. You are going to
have your bloody, beating heart ripped out, but you
are going to have to stand in line, in the hot sun, for
hours, waiting your turn.

"Regret" by Louis Jenkins, from Tin Flag: New and Selected Prose Poems. Will o' the Wisp Books. © 2013 Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Thanksgiving Day. Although the Thanksgiving festivities celebrated by the Pilgrims and a tribe of Wampanoag Indians happened in 1621, it wasn't until 1789 that the newly sworn-in President George Washington declared, in his first presidential proclamation, a day of national "thanksgiving and prayer" for that November.

The holiday fell out of custom, though, and by the mid 1800s only a handful of states officially celebrated Thanksgiving, on a date of their choice. It was the editor of a women's magazine, Sarah Josepha Hale, a widow and the author of the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb," who campaigned for a return of the holiday. For 36 years, she wrote articles about the Plymouth colonists in her magazine, trying to revive interest in the subject, and editorials suggesting a national holiday. Hale wrote to four presidents about her idea — Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan — before her fifth letter got notice. In 1863, exactly 74 years after Washington had made his proclamation, President Lincoln issued his own, asking that citizens "in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." He requested prayers especially for those widowed and orphaned by the ongoing Civil War, as well as gratitude for "fruitful fields," enlarging borders of settlements, abundant mines, and a burgeoning population.

It's the birthday of writer and physicist Alan Lightman (books by this author), born in Memphis, Tennessee (1948). His first novel, Einstein's Dreams (1993), was a short book made up of 30 dreams that Lightman imagined Albert Einstein might have had during the months of 1905 when he was working on his theory of special relativity. Einstein's Dreams became an international best-seller.

His other novels include Good Benito (1995), The Diagnosis (2000), and most recently, Mr g (2012), in which the main character is God.

It's the birthday of poet William Blake (books by this author), born in London (1757). He started seeing visions when he was a young boy — God in the window, angels in trees. He apprenticed to an engraver, and spent his life as a little-known printmaker and poet.

In 1809, Blake opened an exhibition of his art on the first floor of his brother's hosiery shop. He called the show "Poetical and Historical Inventions." He left the show up for a year, but not many people attended, and not a single piece of art was sold. There was only one review of the show, by an art critic named Robert Hunt, who described Blake as an "unfortunate lunatic" in his review.

Blake died in poverty in 1827, at the age of 69. In the 30 years after publishing Songs of Innocence and of Experience, fewer than 20 copies had sold. Three years after his death, he was mentioned in a popular six-volume encyclopedia of British artists. The real breakthrough came when Alexander Gilchrist, a young admirer of Blake, set out to write his biography. Gilchrist died before it was finished, but his wife, Anne, took over the task. In 1863, Life of William Blake was published — it was subtitled Pictor Ignotus, or "unknown artist," because Blake was so obscure. Besides telling Blake's life story and claiming that he was not, in fact, insane, Gilchrist quoted many of Blake's poems, and included his illustrations. The Life of William Blake was hugely popular, and for the first time, Blake was considered a major English poet.

William Blake said, "The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself."

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

 









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