Mar. 30, 2003

Yin and Yang

by Kenneth Rexroth

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Poem: "Yin and Yang," by Kenneth Rexroth from The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth (Copper Canyon Press).

Yin and Yang

It is spring once more in the Coast Range
Warm, perfumed, under the Easter moon.
The flowers are back in their places.
The birds back in their usual trees.
The winter stars set in the ocean.
The summer stars rise from the mountains.
The air is filled with atoms of quicksilver.
Resurrection envelops the earth.
Geometrical, blazing, deathless,
Animals and men march through heaven,
Pacing their secret ceremony.
The Lion gives the moon to the Virgin.
She stands at the crossroads of heaven,
Holding the full moon in her right hand,
A glittering wheat ear in her left.
The climax of the rite of rebirth
Has ascended from the underworld
Is proclaimed in light from the zenith.
In the underworld the sun swims
Between the fish called Yes and No.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Jon Hassler, born in Minneapolis (1933). He's the author of ten novels, including Staggerford (1977), Rookery Blues (1995), and The Dean's List (1997). He started out as a high school English teacher and then taught in a succession of small colleges. He wrote in the mornings before going to work, mostly short stories, and he amassed a collection of eighty-five rejections. He didn't publish Staggerford until he was forty-two. In an interview, he said, "I want my books to be accessible, I want people to just step into them and not have any barrier between them and the story-which means the prose shouldn't even be noticeable. But it takes a lot of work to make it not noticeable, I find."

It's the birthday of Tom Sharpe, born in London (1928). He's the author of Indecent Exposure (1973), Porterhouse Blue (1974), Wilt (1978), and Vintage Stuff (1982).

It's the birthday of playwright Sean O'Casey, born in Dublin (1880). He suffered all his life from eye disease, and didn't learn to read until he was fourteen. In his early twenties he joined the Irish Citizen Army, but he soon discovered that the nationalist movement was segregated by class. He said bitterly that the fight for independence had become "a fight for collars and ties." His first two plays, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923) and Juno and the Paycock (1924) were produced at Dublin's Abbey Theatre, to great acclaim; the third, The Plough and the Stars (1926), portrayed the leaders of the movement as half-wits, and the conflict as one in which men slaughtered each other indiscriminately while their wives and mothers, the sane ones, cleaned up after them. Audiences rioted in the streets, the Abbey Theatre refused to produce his next play, and O'Casey left Ireland forever. In England, his plays never achieved the success of his first three, but he wrote six brilliant volumes of autobiography, starting with I Knock at the Door (1939). Sean O'Casey said: "All the world's a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."

It's the birthday of painter and etcher Francisco Jose de Goya, born in Aragon, Spain (1746). He executed approximately 1,800 paintings, drawings and lithographs during his lifetime. He was a Spanish court painter but his best work was done apart from his official duties.

It's the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, born in Zundert, Holland (1853). He's the painter of sunflowers and starry nights whose work was just beginning to be acknowledged when he committed suicide at the age of thirty-seven.

It's the birthday of poet Paul Verlaine, born in Metz, France (1844). Along with Stéphane Mallarmé and Charles Baudelaire, he originated the "Decadent" school of literature. He left his wife for the poet Arthur Rimbaud, but they had such a tumultuous relationship that he ended up shooting Rimbaud in the wrist, and he served a prison term for it.

It's the birthday of Anna Sewell, in Norfolk, England (1820). She's author of Black Beauty (1877). Horses were still beasts of burden in England when Sewell was growing up, and she watched in horror as their owners whipped them when they stumbled. She and her mother protested whenever they saw drivers thrashing their animals; sometimes, the drivers threatened to beat them in turn for interfering. After an injury made her an invalid, she began a story of a horse passed from one cruel owner to another. It was published when she was fifty-seven; she had just time to learn that the book was a success before she died a year later.

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