Sunday

Sep. 28, 2014

Heaven

by Margaret Gibson

The leaves are turning, one by one carried away in the crisp wind.
In one letter he penned,
Coleridge turned away, calling love
a local anguish he meant to leave
behind him. Away, away,
says the blue and gold day, and no one hears it but the wind, whose law
it echoes. The dog has a red ball to chase.
You pick a flat, perfect stone for the wall you hope to live long enough
to rebuild. I prune
briars, pick burrs from the dog's fur.
I teach Come and Sit. Sit here
a longer sit beneath the cedars. The grass is freshly cut,
sun low, all the energy
of a summer's day rushing into bulb and root.
The dog runs off, returns. The stones balance
steeply. Good work. Good dog. This is
heaven. Sit. Stay.

"Heaven" by Margaret Gibson from Broken Cup. © Louisiana State University Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the day Confucius' birthday is celebrated in Taiwan. The holiday is called Teacher's Day. Confucius dominated the thought and traditions of the Chinese for centuries, but he was not a religious leader; a disciple of his said, "The Master never talked about spiritual beings, disorder, extraordinary things, or feats of strength." He lived simply and never doubted that learning would lead to virtue. He said: "Be not ashamed of mistakes and thus make them crimes," "It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop," and "Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart."

It's the birthday of archaeologist and diplomat Edward H. Thompson, who was born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1857). He devoted much of his career to studying Mayan ruins and artifacts, and originally thought that the Mayan monuments were proof that the fabled lost continent of Atlantis had really existed. Lucky for him, the rich son of a railroad tycoon had an interest in archaeology but no desire to pursue it himself: Stephen Salisbury III contacted Thompson after reading his Atlantis article, and asked him if he would be interested in moving to Yucatán and exploring the Mayan ruins on Salisbury's behalf. When Massachusetts senator George Frisbie Hoar agreed to nominate Thompson for the post of United States consul to Yucatán, everything fell into place, and Thompson soon set sail with his wife and newborn daughter.

Thompson arrived in Mérida, Yucatán, in 1885. His biographer, T.A. Willard, who was inclined toward literary embellishment, described Thompson's first midnight sighting of the ruined city of Chichén Itzá, abandoned by the Mayans in 1250: "There, high-up, wraith-like, in the waning moonlight, loomed what seemed a Grecian temple of colossal proportions atop a great steep hill." In order to gain unrestricted access to the ruins, Thompson eventually bought a run-down plantation whose lands included the Mayan city and its pyramid Kukulcan. He paid $500 and received, in addition to the ruins, a dilapidated hacienda; 45 servants and their families; herds of cattle and mules; fruit orchards; and acres of sugar cane. "Don Eduardo" and his family lived there for 30 years.

It's the birthday of George W.S. Trow (books by this author) — essayist, novelist, playwright, and media critic — born in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1943. His most famous work was an essay, published in The New Yorker in November 1980, which later became a book. "Within the Context of No Context" was Trow's view on the decline of American culture, brought about mostly by television. "The work of television," Trow wrote, "is to establish false contexts and to chronicle the unraveling of existing contexts; finally, to establish the context of no context and to chronicle it." As TV gained in popularity, people began staying home to watch it rather than going out and participating socially with their communities. As a result, wrote Trow, Americans were only involved with the "grid of intimacy" — their immediate families — and the "grid of two hundred million" other television viewers. "Middle distance" grids — community groups like bowling leagues and bridge clubs — began dying off as people abandoned them for a false community of celebrities and sitcoms. And people also began to see themselves as parts of separate demographic groups; they stopped seeing themselves as connected to other generations or to history. The New Yorker devoted its whole issue to the essay.

It was on this day in 1066 that William the Conqueror of Normandy arrived on British soil. He defeated the British in the Battle of Hastings on October 14, and on Christmas Day, he was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.

The Norman invasion had a larger and more pronounced effect on the development of the English language than any other event in history. Within the course of a few centuries, English went from being a strictly Germanic language to one infused with a large Latinate vocabulary, which came via French.

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