Jan. 27, 2003

Good People

by W. S. Merwin

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Poem: "Good People," by W.S. Merwin from The Pupil (Alfred A. Knopf).

Good People

From the kindness of my parents
I suppose it was that I held
that belief about suffering

imagining that if only
it could come to the attention
of any person with normal
feelings certainly anyone
literate who might have gone

to college they would comprehend
pain when it went on before them
and would do something about it
whenever they saw it happen
in the time of pain the present
they would try to stop the bleeding
for example with their hands

but it escapes their attention
or there by be reasons for it
the victims under the blankets
the mean counters the maimed children
the animals the animals
staring from the end of the world

It is the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg, Austria (1756). He was a child prodigy. He toured Germany at the age of six, and at seven his father Leopold, a music teacher, took young Wolfgang and his older sister on a three-year tour of Europe's royal courts. He said, "People err who think my art comes easily to me. . . ." In his 35 years, he composed forty-nine symphonies, forty concertos, and a wide range of other works, including operas such as The Marriage of Figaro (1784) and The Magic Flute (1791). Mozart wrote: "Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together" make genius. And: "Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius."

It is the birthday of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, born in Daresbury, Cheshire, England (1832). He was a mathematician. He had a terrible stutter, but it went away when he talked with children. One day, he took the three young Liddell sisters, Lorina, Edith, and Alice, on a river boat ride up the Thames for a picnic. He told them a fantastic story about Alice and "Her Adventures Underground." They begged him to write it down, and he did, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), along with Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), became one of the most popular children's books in the world. He said: "In some ways, you know, people that don't exist are much nicer than people that do."

It's the birthday of composer Jerome Kern, born in New York City (1885). In May of 1915, Kern and his wife planned to sail to Liverpool on the Lusitania. Kern overslept, they missed the boat, and days later it was torpedoed. He had a passion for gambling -- he sometimes lost thousands of dollars a night -- and for book collecting. The books became too much of an obsession, and so in 1928 he decided to sell them. The "Kern Sale" was big news. It was the roaring 20's, euphoria filled the auction house, and no one could believe it when the sale brought in almost two million dollars. Kern invested most of it in stocks; the market crashed later that year. His classic songs include "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," "Ol' Man River," and "The Last Time I Saw Paris."

It's the birthday of Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler, born in Montreal (1931). His first novel, The Acrobats (1954), is about a young Canadian painter in Spain with a group of expatriates and revolutionaries. Richler's a sharp cultural critic, and his books The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959), St. Urbain's Horsemen (1971), and Joshua Then and Now (1980) all deal with greed and success. He wrote a collection of humorous essays titled Notes on an Endangered Species and Others (1974), and a series of children's books. He said, "Coming from Canada, being a writer and Jewish as well, I have impeccable paranoia credentials."

It's the anniversary of two events that made life a lot easier for writers: on this day in 1880, a patent was issued to Thomas Edison for the electric lamp, and in 1948, the Wire Recording Corporation of America announced the sale of the first tape recorder, for $149.50.

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




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