Apr. 15, 2002


by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "Weather," by Linda Pastan from The Last Uncle (W.W. Norton).


Because of the menace
your father opened
like a black umbrella
and held high
over your childhood
blocking the light,
your life now seems

to you exceptional
in its simplicities.
You speak of this,
throwing the window open
on a plain spring day,
after such a winter.

Today is Tax Day. Since 1913, when Congress ratified the sixteenth amendment of the Constitution giving the power of taxation to the government, taxes have been due on the fifteenth day of April (unless that date occurs on a weekend, in which case you have an extra day or two to file your returns).

In 1912 on this day, the Titanic sank. The luxury liner was on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City when it struck an iceberg just before midnight on April 14th. It had a double-bottomed hull that was divided into sixteen supposedly watertight compartments. Four of these compartments could be flooded without endangering the ship's buoyancy; therefore it was considered unsinkable. However, the iceberg ruptured five compartments and the ship sank at 2:27 a.m. on April 15th.

It's the birthday of writer and politician Jeffrey Archer, born in Somerset, England (1940). In 1966, at the age of twenty-six, he was elected as a Conservative member of Parliament, becoming its youngest member. In 1974, Archer invested in a Canadian company that collapsed. Three of its directors were jailed for fraud, and Archer lost all of his money. He left Parliament and set out to write a book based loosely on his experiences. That book was Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less (1976), which was an international best seller. He became a master at writing popular novels based on themes of wealth and power, rich versus poor, good versus evil, and produced such best sellers as Kane and Abel (1980), First Among Equals (1984), and The Eleventh Commandment (1998).

It's the birthday of blues singer Bessie Smith, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee (1894). Smith was a street singer when blues legend Ma Rainey discovered her and made her part of her revue, The Rabbit Foot Minstrels. Smith's first recording, Down Hearted Blues (1923), was an immediate hit and sold over two million copies in the first year, an unheard of accomplishment for that time. As a result, she began touring throughout the South and the Northeast, and became the highest paid Black entertainer in the country.

It's the birthday of poet (William) Bliss Carman, born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada (1861), who is considered to be one of Canada's best poets. After graduating from Harvard, he settled in the United States, and worked as an editor at several literary journals where he helped many young Canadian writers get published. He continued to publish volumes of poetry, including The Rough Rider and Other Poems (1909), and April Airs (1916). His last undertaking was to edit the Oxford Book of American Verse in 1927. He died two years later in his adopted home of New Canaan, Connecticut. During his lifetime, he authored more than fifty volumes of poetry, and became known as Canada's unofficial poet laureate.

It's the birthday of novelist, short story writer, and literary critic Henry James, born in New York City, New York (1843). In 1865, he began to write literary reviews and short stories. His first novels, including Daisy Miller (1879), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and The Bostonians (1886), were based on his observances of Americans living and traveling abroad. He moved to England in 1876, and spent most of his life there, becoming an English citizen in 1915. Most critics, and James himself, consider his masterpiece to be The Ambassadors (1903). Called by many the "master of the psychological novel," James developed the form of the modern novel's "point of view," which was, as explained by Joseph Beach in The Method of Henry James, "never to allow anything to enter the novel or story which was not represented as a perception or experience of one of the characters." Because of this, James was a major influence on twentieth century writing.

It's the birthday of artist Leonardo da Vinci, born in Vinci, Italy (1452), who, though one of the great geniuses of all time, left much of his work unfinished. In 1466, da Vinci was apprenticed to the leading painter and sculptor in Florence, where he stayed until 1478, when he became an independent master. Four years later, he entered the service of the Duke of Milan after writing him a letter saying that he could make cannons, build ships, armored vehicles, and catapults, and make sculptures in marble, bronze, and clay. While in Milan, he painted The Last Supper (1495-1497) on a wall in a monastery. Unfortunately, his use of oil on dry plaster began deteriorating almost immediately; attempts to restore it have been ongoing since 1726. In 1502, da Vinci returned to Florence in the service of Cesare Borgia, where he began to design a huge mural for the hall of the Palazzo Vecchio. He completed a sketch, but never finished the painting. Also during this period, he painted several portraits. The only one to survive is his most famous, the Mona Lisa (1503-06). It seems to have been a favorite of da Vinci's, as he took it with him wherever he traveled. Da Vinci made hundreds of drawings for sculptures and architectural works that were never completed. He also wrote many scientific treatises, most of which were also unfinished. His theories are contained in numerous notebooks, which were written in mirror script and do not appear in any logical order. He studied the anatomy of the human body and the circulation of the blood, developed theories about how fossils are formed, and invented an underwater diving suit and a flying machine. Many people believe that if his theories had been published, they would have revolutionized the science of the sixteenth century.

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




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