Sep. 10, 2002

Small boy

by Norman MacCaig

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Poem: "Small boy," by Norman MacCaig from Collected Poems (Random House).

Small boy

He picked up a pebble
and threw it into the sea.

And another, and another.
He couldn't stop.

He wasn't trying to fill the sea.
He wasn't trying to empty the beach.

He was just throwing away,
nothing else but.

Like a kitten playing
he was practicing for the future

when there'll be so many things
he'll want to throw away

if only his fingers will unclench
and let them go.

It's the birthday of Arthur Holly Compton, born in Wooster, Ohio (1892). He won the Nobel Prize for Physics (1927) for his discovery of the change in wavelengths of x-rays when they collide with electrons.

It's the birthday of Robert Wise, born in Winchester, Indiana (1914). He produced musicals such as West Side Story and The Sound of Music.

It's the birthday of Isaac Kauffman Funk, born in Clifton, Ohio (1839). He was a Lutheran minister, and also the founder of the Funk and Wagnalls publishing house, which published the Standard Dictionary of the English Language.

It's the birthday of Franz Werfel, born in Prague (1890). He was a German poet, playwright, and novelist. He wrote the most famous account ever written of the Armenian struggle against the Turks, called The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. He had seen, on a visit to Syria, starving, mutilated, and ill Armenian refugee children working at the carpet looms. Although he was Jewish, he was fascinated with and wrote about the Catholic faith. He eventually fled, after marrying Alma Mahler, (the widow of the composer Gustav Mahler), to the pilgrimage town of Lourdes, France, to escape the Nazis. While there, he made a vow that if he made it alive to America, he would sing the song of Bernadette, the saint of Lourdes.

It's the birthday of Stephen Jay Gould, born in New York City in 1941. From a the age of five, after seeing the Tyrannosaurus skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History, he never considered a career other than paleontology. He developed the theory of punctuated equilibria, which supplements Darwinian theory to say that evolutionary change in species occurs in intense but infrequent bursts of creation rather than imperceptibly slow but constant transformation. He has written popular scientific books, such as The Panda's Thumb, a collection of essays he had written for the periodical Natural History, and Full House, a book about the myth of evolution as progress. He also gets involved in public controversies, such as the Arkansas Scopes II trial regarding the teaching of evolution in public schools, expressing his strong opinions against creationism and other theories that deny evolution. He said in one book, "It seems the height of antiquated hubris to claim that the universe carried on as it did for billions of years in order to form a comfortable abode for us." In explaining why people are fascinated with evolutionary theory, he said, "it touches all our lives; for how can we be indifferent to the great questions of genealogy: where did we come from and what does it mean? And then of course, there are all those organisms: more than a million described species, from bacterium to blue whale, with one hell of a lot of beetles in between-each with its own beauty, and each with a story to tell."

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