Feb. 4, 2002

The Mad Gardener's Song

by Lewis Carroll

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Poem: "The Mad Gardener's Song," by Lewis Carroll.

The Mad Gardener's Song

He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
'At length I realise,' he said,
'The bitterness of Life!'

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister's Husband's Niece.
'Unless you leave this house,' he said,
'I'll send for the Police!'

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
'The only thing I regret,' he said,
'Is that it cannot speak!'

He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus:
'If this should stay to dine,' he said,
'There won't be much for us!'

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
A Vegetable-Pill.
'Were I to swallow this,' he said,
'I should be very ill!'

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bear without a Head.
'Poor thing,' he said, 'poor silly thing!
It's waiting to be fed!'

He thought he saw an Albatross
That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
A Penny-Postage-Stamp.
'You'd best be getting home,' he said:
'The nights are very damp!'

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
'And all its mystery,' he said,
'Is clear as day to me!'

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
'A fact so dread,' he faintly said,
'Extinguishes all hope!'

It's the birthday of American novelist and short story writer Stewart O'Nan, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1961). He started out as an award-winning writer of short fiction in the late 1980's, before making the transition to writing novels in the early 1990's. His first novel, Snow Angels (1994), won the William Faulkner Prize, and earned O'Nan a place on Granta Magazine's list of America's Best Young Novelists. His recent work includes the novel A Prayer for the Dying (2000) and The Circus Fire (2000), a true account of the 1944 Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey big top fire in Hartford, Connecticut. Stewart O'Nan, who said: "I am primarily a realist and hope to show great empathy for my people without softening the difficult situations they find themselves in-yet my work inevitably veers into the cruel and the sentimental…It is extreme fiction masquerading behind the guise of mainstream realism. I hope it is generous, or, as Cheever said, 'humane.'"

It's the birthday of American writer Robert (Lowell) Coover, born in Charles City, Iowa (1932). He's known for his mix of philosophy and fantasy in such novels as The Origin of the Brunists (1966) and The Universal Baseball Association (1968), and in short story collections like the highly-acclaimed Pricksongs and Descants (1969). His writing often explores alternate realities, as in his 1987 novel, Whatever Happened to Gloomy Gus of the Chicago Bears?, which imagines that Richard Nixon chose a career in professional football instead of in politics. His other books include the novels Pinocchio in Venice (1991) and John's Wife (1996). As a professor in the creative writing program at Brown University, he teaches a course in hypertext fiction. He says: "The world is a wild place, and the writer's role is to bring some portion of that anarchic carnival into focus through an artistic prism."

It's the birthday of the great Austrian conductor Erich Leinsdorf, born Erich Landauer, in Vienna, Austria (1912). In 1937, he came to the United States to conduct German repertory at the Metropolitan Opera. He went on to conduct the Cleveland Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and to make frequent appearances as a guest conductor with orchestras around the world. He wrote an important book about conducting, The Composer's Advocate (1981), in which he stressed that the conductor's job was to present the music as the composer intended it to be heard.

It's the birthday of aviator Charles (Augustus) Lindbergh, born in Detroit, Michigan (1902). He grew up in Little Falls, Minnesota, and in Washington, D.C., where his father spent ten years representing the Minnesota sixth congressional district in Congress. After two years at the University of Wisconsin, he enrolled in a flight school in Lincoln, Nebraska, bought himself a World War One era plane, and embarked on barnstorming tours throughout the Midwest and South. He became an airmail pilot in 1926, flying a route between Chicago and St. Louis. It was in St. Louis that he got backing from a group of businessmen to compete for a twenty-five thousand dollar prize offered for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris. In a small monoplane called "Spirit of St. Louis," he made the flight in thirty-three and a half hours, between May 20 and 21, 1927. The flight made him famous. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote: "In the spring of '27, something bright and alien flashed across the sky…and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought of their old best dreams."

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