Feb. 28, 2003


by Daniel Hoffman

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"Ants," by Daniel Hoffman from Beyond Silence (Louisiana State University Press).


Theirs is a perfection of pure form.
Nobody but has his proper place and knows it.
Everything they do is functional.
Each foray in a zigzag line
Each prodigious lifting
Of thirty-two times their own weight
Each excavation into the earth's core
Each erection
Of a crumbly parapetted tower-

None of these feats is a private pleasure,
None of them done
For the sake of the skill alone-

They've got a going concern down there,
A full egg-hatchery
A wet-nursery of aphids
A trained troop of maintenance engineers
Sanitation experts
A corps of hunters
And butchers
An army

A queen
Is nothing without the others, each being a part
Of something greater than all of them put together
A purpose which none of them knows
Since each is only
The one thing that he does. There is
A true consistency
Toward which their actions tend.
The ants have bred and inbred to perfection.
The strains of their genes that survive survive.
Every possible contingency
Has been foreseen and written into the plan.

Nothing they do will be wrong.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of writer, playwright and filmmaker Marcel Paul Pagnol, born in Aubagne, France (1895). His first major success was called Topaze (1928), a story of the corruptive powers of money that was made into a film in 1933 starring John Barrymore. He is perhaps best known for his novels, Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring, both of which were adapted into films.

It's the birthday of novelist and educator Donna Jo Napoli, born in Miami, Florida (1948), who is chair of the linguistics department at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, and also is a popular author of young adult novels, such as Jimmy, the Pickpocket of the Palace (1996) and others.

It's the birthday of novelist Donald (Charles) Coldsmith, born in Iola, Kansas (1926). He is the author of numerous historical western novels, most of which are set in the American Great Plains and West between 1540 and 1700, and are told from the point of view of the American Indians who were already here when the Spanish and the French arrived.

It's the birthday of writer Milton (Arthur) Caniff, born in Hillsboro, Ohio (1907), who was the creator of the classic comic strips "Terry and the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon."

It's the birthday of illustrator John Tenniel, born in London, England (1820). He is best known for the illustrations he did for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872).

It's the birthday of historian Dee Brown, born in Alberta, Louisiana (1908). During the 1950s and 60s, Brown was an academic librarian and part-time writer who published seventeen books, mostly in the field of nonfiction history. Then, beginning in 1968, Brown would come home from the library every day and imagine himself an Indian elder in the nineteenth century relating the events of the years 1860 to 1890 in which the last of the Native Americans were driven from their land. These imaginings became the 1970 bestseller, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

It's the birthday of essayist Michel de Montaigne, born in Perigord, in Bordeaux, France (1533). He is considered by many to be the creator of the personal essay, in which he used self-portrayal as a mirror of humanity in general. Writers up to the present time have imitated his informal, conversational style. He said, "The highest of wisdom is continual cheerfulness: such a state, like the region above the moon, is always clear and serene."

It's the birthday of chemist and writer Linus Pauling, born in Portland, Oregon (1901), who was the first to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes in separate fields: Chemistry in 1954, and Peace in 1962. Pauling won the chemistry prize for his research on the nature of chemical bonds and the study of amino acids. Pauling won his second Nobel Prize for his efforts to ban nuclear weapons, especially his campaign against nuclear weapons testing.

It's the birthday of screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, and novelist Ben Hecht, born in New York City (1893). He wrote many great films including His Girl Friday (1940), The Outlaw (1943), Twentieth Century (1934), Some Like It Hot (1939), Spellbound (1945), and Notorious (1946).

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




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