Aug. 17, 2002

Being Christlike

by Ted Hughes

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Poem: "Being Christlike," by Ted Hughes from Birthday Letters (Farrar Straus Giroux).

Being Christlike

You did not want to be Christlike. Though your father
Was your God and there was no other, you did not
Want to be Christlike. Though you walked
In the love of your father. Though you stared
At the stranger of your mother.
What had she to do with you
But tempt you from your father?
When her great hooded eyes lowered
Their moon so close
Promising the earth you saw
Your fate and you cried
Get thee behind me. You did not
Want to be Christlike. You wanted
To be with your father
In wherever he was. And your body
Barred your passage. And your family
Who were your flesh and blood
Burdened it. And a god
That was not your father
Was a false god. But you did not
Want to be Christlike.

It's the birthday of novelist Sir V(idiadhar) S(urajprasad) Naipaul, born in Chaguanas, Trinidad (1932). He's the author of many novels, including A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), In a Free State (1971-Booker Prize winner), A Bend in the River (1979), and A Turn in the South (1989). He said, "I think literature should be read privately. Literature is not for the young. Literature is for the old, the experienced, the wounded, the damaged, who read literature to find echoes of their own experience and balm of a certain sort. Contented tribal societies don't need literature. They pound their yams and they're quite happy."

It's the birthday of poet Ted Hughes (Edward James Hughes), born in West Yorkshire, England (1930). He served as British Poet Laureate from 1984 until his death in 1998, the same year his final book of poems, Birthday Letters, was issued. Of those 88 poems, all but two are addressed to Sylvia Plath, his first wife. Many people condemned Hughes when Plath committed suicide after he abandoned her and their two babies during one of the coldest winters in British history. His case wasn't helped by the fact that he never spoke out in his own defense-or, incredibly, that the married woman for whom he had left Plath eventually killed herself, and the daughter she had by Hughes, in the same manner Plath had used. For years, Hughes' readings were broken up by cries of "Murderer!" from the audience. He continued to promote Plath's work, releasing the main collection on which her reputation as a poet is based-Ariel (1965)-and later edited her collected poems (1981).

It's the birthday of painter Larry Rivers, born Larry Grossberg in New York City (1923). An abstract expressionist and a predecessor of pop art, his biggest project was a 33-foot, 76-panel work titled "The History of the Russian Revolution: From Marx to Mayakowski." It took him six months to produce it. In addition to 30 paintings on canvas, it included an assemblage of boxes, silhouettes, a long poem, an honor roll of martyrs, lead pipes, wooden rifles, and a real machine gun. Rivers called it "the greatest painting-sculpture-mixed media of the 20th century, or the stupidest."

It's the birthday of actress Mae West, born in Brooklyn (1893). She said, "When I'm good I'm very good, but when I'm bad I'm better," and "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful," and "Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."

It's the birthday of black nationalist leader Marcus (Moziah) Garvey, born in St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica (1887). He came to the United States and organized a black nationalist movement in Harlem. Known as the "Black Moses," by 1919 he claimed two million adherents.

It's the birthday of physician Thomas Hodgkin, born in Tottenham, Middlesex (1798)-who described, in 1832, the malignant lymph disease that bears his name: Hodgkin's Disease.

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