Jul. 12, 2002

The Suitor

by Jane Kenyon

FRIDAY, 12 JULY 2002
(RealAudio) | How to listen

: "The Suitor," by Jane Kenyon from Otherwise: New & Selected Poems (Graywolf Press).

The Suitor

We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

It's the birthday of theater critic and essayist John Lahr, born in Los Angeles, California (1941). His father, Bert Lahr, was a popular vaudeville performer who became famous as the Cowardly Lion in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. John Lahr's first book was a biography of his father, Notes on a Cowardly Lion (1969, new edition 2000). Since then, he's written fifteen books and edited several theater anthologies, in addition to his work for the New Yorker.

It's the birthday of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, in Parral, Chile (1904). He began to write poetry when he was ten, but was discouraged from writing by his father. To get around his father's disapproval, he disguised his identity with the pen name Pablo Neruda. He was sent off to a boy's school in 1910, where he continued to write poetry, encouraged by the principal of the local girls' school, Gabriela Mistral. She, like her young protegé, went on to win the Nobel Prize. His first collection of poetry, Crepusculario, was published in 1923. He also had a career as a Chilean diplomat, a Marxist politician, and a Senator. After he published a letter critical of Chile's president in 1948, he left the Chilean Senate and fled the country, crossing the Andes Mountains on horseback. In his saddlebag was the manuscript of one of his greatest works, an epic poem about Latin America, Canto general (1950). He said: "Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread."

It's the birthday of the great Broadway lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, II, born in New York City (1895). In a career spanning nearly forty years, he worked on nearly fifty musical dramas, penning librettos for Sigmund Romberg, Jerome Kern, and, most famously, Richard Rodgers. Before teaming up exclusively with Rodgers in 1943, he collaborated with Romberg on Desert Song (1925) and with Kern on Show Boat (1927). He and Rodgers first teamed up on the groundbreaking musical Oklahoma! (1943), which was followed by a string of successes, including Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951) and The Sound of Music (1959).

It's the birthday of American essayist and poet Henry David Thoreau, born in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He was working his father's pencil-making business in 1845 when he decided to build himself a little hut in the woods where he could think and write and grow beans. He chose a spot near Walden Pond, on land owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. He built his hut, planted his beans, meditated, and wrote two of the great classics of American literature, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854). He lived on Walden Pond for two years, until September 1847. He said: "In imagination I have bought all the farms in succession, for all were to be bought, and I knew their price. I walked over each farmer's premises, tasted his wild apples, discoursed on husbandry with him, took his farm at his price on it-took everything but a deed of it-took his word for his deed, for I dearly love to talk-cultivated it, and him too to some extent, I trust, and withdrew when I had enjoyed it long enough, leaving him to carry it on."

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