May 25, 2002


by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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: lines from "Terminus," by Ralph Waldo Emerson.


It is time to be old,
To take in sail: -
The god of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds,
And said: 'No more!
No farther spread
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root.
Fancy departs: no more invent,
Contract thy firmament
To compass of a tent.
There's not enough for this and that,
Make thy option which of two;
Economize the failing river,
Not the less revere the Giver,
Leave the many and hold the few.

As the bird trims her to the gale,
I trim myself to the storm of time,
I man the rudder, reef the sail,
Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:
'Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, is near,
And every wave is charmed.'

It's the birthday of novelist, short story writer, and essayist Jamaica Kincaid, born Elaine Potter Richardson in St. Johns, Antigua (1949). Kincaid, whose tumultuous and sometimes ambiguous relationship with her mother formed the basis of her writing career, was sent to America at the age of seventeen to be an au pair for a wealthy family. She left that position to study photography, and then to attend college in New Hampshire for a year. Her first published writings were a series of articles for Ingenue magazine, after which she changed her name because her family disapproved of her writing. The articles brought her to the attention of The New Yorker magazine, and she began to write articles for them.

It's the birthday of short story writer and poet Raymond Carver, born in Clatskanie, Oregon (1938). Carver studied writing with John Gardener in college, and attended the Iowa Writer's Workshop, but had to put writing on the back burner while he supported his family. Married just after high school, Carver had a wife and two children to feed; they relocated to California and moved around from town to town and job to job. He wrote in his spare time, and gained recognition in 1967 with the publication of his short story, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? His short story collections include What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981), Cathedral (1983), and Where I'm Calling From (1988).

It's the birthday of poet Theodore Roethke, born in Saginaw, Michigan (1908). He kept dozens of notebooks with thoughts and lines of verse in them; his pockets were always filled with notes about snatches of conversations that he had heard. He was an immensely popular teacher at various colleges, including Penn State, Bennington, and the University of Washington. His works include The Lost Son and Other Poems (1948), Praise to the End! (1951), and I am! Says the Lamb (1961).

It's the birthday of dancer and actor Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, born in Richmond, Virginia (1878). Robinson began dancing for pennies at the age of six. At twelve, he joined a traveling company in the play The South Before the War. He then spent several years on the black vaudeville circuit, and became one of its top stars. Robinson was fifty before he danced for white audiences. In 1928, when vaudeville was fading, an impresario named Lew Leslie produced Blackbirds of 1928, a musical review for white audiences featuring stars of the black theater. Two years later, Robinson went to Hollywood where he made fourteen films, including The Little Colonel (1935), The Littlest Rebel (1935), and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). He also appeared with Lena Horne and Fats Waller in the all-black 1943 musical, Stormy Weather. He also had a unique ability to run backward almost as fast as most men could run forward: he once ran seventy-five yards backward in a little over eight seconds.

It's the birthday of philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1803). The son of a preacher, Emerson studied to follow in his father's footsteps, but became disillusioned with religion after his wife's death from tuberculosis. He traveled to England in 1832, where he met writers like Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Carlyle, and began to formulate his ideas for what would become Transcendentalism. The movement believed that man could transcend the material world and become aware of the spirit and harmony of the universe, and that God could be found by looking into one's own self. He lived in Concord, Massachusetts with his daughter until his death at the age of seventy-nine. He said: "Nothing external to you has any power over you."

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