Oct. 16, 2002

Anniversary on the Island

by W. S. Merwin

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Poem: "Anniversary on the Island," by W.S. Merwin from The Rain in the Trees (Random House).

Anniversary on the Island

The long waves glide in through the afternoon
while we watch from the island
from the cool shadow under the trees where the long ridge
a fold in the skirt of the mountain
runs down to the end of the headland

day after day we wake to the island
the light rises through the drops on the leaves
and we remember like birds where we are
night after night we touch the dark island
that once we set out for

and lie still at last with the island in our arms
hearing the leaves and the breathing shore
there are no years any more
only the one mountain
and on all sides the sea that brought us

It's the birthday of novelist and newspaper reporter Jimmy Breslin, born in Jamaica, New York (1930).

It's the birthday of Günter Grass, born in Danzig (1927). He wrote the Danzig trilogy, The Tin Drum (1959), Cat and Mouse (1961), and Dog Years (1963).

It's the birthday of Kathleen Winsor, born in Olivia, Minnesota (1919). She wrote the best seller Forever Amber, published in 1944, that was banned in Boston.

It's the birthday of the man considered to have written the first real tragedies of the American stage, Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, born in New York City (1888). He wrote Mourning Becomes Electra (1930), The Iceman Cometh (1946), and Long Day's Journey Into Night (1956). He wrote, "Man is born broken. He lives by mending."

It's the birthday of Oscar [Fingal O'Flaherty Wills] Wilde, born in Dublin (1854). He wrote Lady Windemere's Fan (1892), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). An acquaintance wrote, "My first meeting with Oscar Wilde was an astonishment. I never before heard a man talking with perfect sentences, as if he had written them all overnight with labour and yet all spontaneous." Oscar Wilde said, "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances."

It's the birthday of Noah Webster, born in West Hartford, Connecticut (1758). He wrote the Blue-backed Spellers, which he sold throughout the colonies on horseback, and then compiled the American Dictionary of the English Language. He simplified old-fashioned spelling; he took the "ough" off the end of the word "plow" and the "k" off of the end of "music," and he said it was all right for people to go ahead and say "sal-VAY-shun" instead of "sal-VAY-she-un," as they had been doing. He said: "Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground."

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




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