Jan. 1, 2003

The Sunlight on the Garden

by Louis MacNeice

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Poem: "The Sunlight on the Garden," by Louis MacNeice from Collected Poems (Faber & Faber).

The Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

Today is New Year's Day. On this day in Georgia, black-eyed peas and turnip greens are eaten for good luck. In the old days, the mid-19th century, it was a day for calling -- a day when a gentleman was obliged to pay a visit to every lady of his acquaintance. Formal dress was worn and at each house there was a table filled with cakes, preserves, wine, oysters and hot coffee. The Vietnamese believe that the first visitor on New Year's Day brings either good or bad luck, so you should invite someone very respected to visit.

It is the birthday of the cartoonist B. Kliban, born in Connecticut (1935). He drew a cartoon in which a man is walking along the street with a walking stick and a cravat and shades, accompanied by two beautiful women, while a policeman kicks people out of the way: "Out of the way, you swine!" he says. "A cartoonist is coming!"

It's the birthday of Joe Orton, born in Liecester (1933), who wrote Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964), Loot, and What the Butler Saw. He was a working class playwright brutally murdered in his prime by his gay, psychotic lover, Kenneth Halliwell, who then committed suicide. Halliwell had been largely responsible for Orton's education.

It's the birthday of J. D. Salinger, born in New York (1919), who was from a to a well-to-do family living on Park Avenue. His father was an importer of kosher cheese. He was called "Sonny" as a boy and went off to prep school, was drafted in the Army and took part in the invasion of Normandy. His comrades considered him to be very brave -- a genuine hero. He came back to New York where his early short stories appeared in Story magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Esquire and then, in The New Yorker with a story called "A Perfect Banana Fish" (1948). His first novel, The Catcher in the Rye, was an immediate success and still sells about a quarter million copies a year.

It's the birthday of E. M. Forster, born in London (1879), who wrote A Room with a View (1908), Howards End (1910) (which has no apostrophe in it, an error which irritated him every time he saw it), and A Passage to India (1924). He wrote his five most important novels before he was forty, and never published any others during his lifetime -- he wrote short stories instead.

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




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