Monday

Mar. 3, 2014

On Faith

by Cecilia Woloch

How do people stay true to each other?
When I think of my parents all those years
in the unmade bed of their marriage, not ever
longing for anything else—or: no, they must
have longed; there must have been flickerings,
stray desires, nights she turned from him,
sleepless, and wept, nights he rose silently,
smoked in the dark, nights that nest of breath
and tangled limbs must have seemed
not enough. But it was. Or they just
held on. A gift, perhaps, I've tossed out,
having been always too willing to fly
to the next love, the next and the next, certain
nothing was really mine, certain nothing
would ever last. So faith hits me late, if at all;
faith that this latest love won't end, or ends
in the shapeless sleep of death. But faith is hard.
When he turns his back to me now, I think:
disappear. I think: not what I want. I think
of my mother lying awake in those arms
that could crush her. That could have. Did not.

"On Faith" by Cecilia Woloch, from Late. © BOA Editions, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1875 that the opera Carmen appeared on stage for the first time at the Opéra-Comique in France. When it premiered, the audience was shocked by the characters of Carmen, a gypsy girl, and her lover, Don José. The opera ran for 37 performances even though it came out late in the season, and it came back the next season, too.

Nietzsche heard Carmen 20 different times, and thought of it as a musical masterpiece. Tchaikovsky first heard Carmen in 1880. Bizet died of a heart attack just three months after the opera's debut.

It was on this day in 1923 that Time magazine was first published. On the cover of the first issue was retired Speaker of the House Joseph G. Gannon.

Circulation has declined steadily since the late 1990s, but Time is still the most widely read weekly newsmagazine in the world. There's a global audience of 25 million people — of whom about 20 million are American.

It was on this day in 1931 that "The Star-Spangled Banner" became the official national anthem of the United States.

The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key more than a century before, "Defence of Fort McHenry." He'd spent a night toward the end of the War of 1812 hearing the British navy bombard Baltimore, Maryland. The bombardment lasted 25 hours — and in the dawn's early light, Francis Scott Key emerged to see the U.S. flag still waving over Fort McHenry. He jotted the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry" on the back of an envelope. Then he went to his hotel and made another copy, which was printed in the Baltimore American a week later.

The tune for the Star-Spangled Banner comes from an old British drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," which was very popular at men's social clubs in London during the 1700s. Francis Scott Key himself did the pairing of the tune to his poem. It was a big hit.

For the next century, a few different anthems were used at official U.S. ceremonies, including "My Country Tis of Thee" and "Hail Columbia." The U.S. Navy adopted "The Star-Spangled Banner" for its officialdom in 1889, and the presidency did in 1916. But it wasn't until this day in 1931 — just 83 years ago — that Congress passed a resolution and Hoover signed into law the decree that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the official national anthem of the United States of America.

Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata was published on this date in 1802. Its real name is the slightly less evocative "Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Opus 27, No. 2," and its Italian subtitle is translated as "almost a fantasy." In 1832, five years after Beethoven's death, a German critic compared the sonata to the effect of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne, and the interpretation became so popular that, by the end of the century, the piece was universally known as the "Moonlight Sonata." Beethoven himself had attributed the emotion of the piece to sitting at the bedside of a friend who had suffered an untimely death.

It's the birthday of the host of "This American Life": Ira Glass (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1959. He got into radio, he says, "totally by accident." It was 1978, he was 19, had just finished his freshman year of college, and was looking for a summer job with an ad agency or a TV station. He managed to talk his way into an internship with NPR despite the fact he'd never listened to public radio. He started out as a tape cutter and as a desk assistant, graduated from Brown University, and continued working for public radio as newscast writer, editor, producer of All Things Considered, reporter, and substitute host. He moved to Chicago in 1989, and in 1995, he launched This American Life. The programs usually feature an in-depth look at the lives of ordinary people; sometimes the stories are sad, sometimes ironic, sometimes funny.

He's the editor of an anthology called The New Kings of Nonfiction (2007).

Today is the birthday of the poet James Merrill (1926) (books by this author), born in New York City. His father was the co-founder of Merrill Lynch. With an ample trust fund, James never had to worry about money, so he was free to devote himself to poetry. But even though he was wealthy himself, he was sensitive to the fact that most artists weren't, so he created the Ingram Merrill Foundation in 1956, with a permanent endowment for writers and painters. His several collections of poetry include The Changing Light at Sandover (1982), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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

 









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