Apr. 19, 2003

Reading the Brothers Grimm to Jenny

by Lisel Mueller

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Reading the Brothers Grimm to Jenny," by Lisel Mueller from Alive Together: New & Selected Poems (Louisiana State University Press).

Reading the Brothers Grimm to Jenny
Dead means somebody has to kiss you.

Jenny, your mind commands
kingdoms of black and white:
you shoulder the crow on your left
the snowbird on your right;
for you the cinders part
and let the lentils through,
and noise falls into place
as screech or sweet roo-coo,
while in my own, real world
gray foxes and gray wolves
bargain eye to eye,
and the amazing dove
takes shelter under the wing
of the raven to keep dry.

Knowing that you must climb,
one day, the ancient tower
where disenchantment binds
the curls of innocence,
that you must live with power
and honor circumstance,
that choice is what comes true-
O, Jenny, pure in heart,
why do I lie to you?

Why do I read you tales
in which birds speak the truth
and pity cures the blind,
and beauty reaches deep
to prove a royal mind?
Death is a small mistake
there, where the kiss revives;
Jenny, we make just dreams
out of our unjust lives.

Still, when your truthful eyes,
your keen, attentive stare,
endow the vacuous slut
with royalty, when you match
her soul to her shimmering hair,
what can she do but rise
to your imagined throne?
And what can I, but see
beyond the world that is
when, faithful, you insist
I have the golden key-
and learn from you once more
the terror and the bliss,
the world as it might be?

Literary Notes:

The English poet George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron, died on this day in 1824. He was in Greece to aid the war for independence against the Turks when he caught a fever while riding horseback in the rain. His death was hastened by the "bleeding" which was often used to try to cure illnesses in those days. His body was taken to the family vault in England, and his heart and brain were placed in a large urn. Lord Byron had become a hero to the Greeks, and they were devastated by his death. The Greek Prince Mavrocordato issued a proclamation of general mourning. At dawn on April 20, a thirty-seven-gun salute -- one for each of Byron's years -- was fired. Businesses closed for three days, Easter festivities were cancelled, and requiem services were arranged in all major towns. On order of the Prince, black was worn for three weeks.

Early on this day in 1775, the first battle of the American Revolutionary War began when several hundred British troops marched into Lexington, Massachusetts on a mission to capture Patriot munitions. On Lexington Green, 77 minutemen faced 700 British troops. The captain of the minutemen, John Parker, gave the order, "Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon; but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here." From behind a wall a shot was fired by the British, and it became "the shot heard round the world" in Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem, "The Concord Hymn."

It's the birthday of Clifford Berry, born in Gladbrook, Iowa (1918). The young Clifford became enthralled with all things electric, and he built his own radio at the age of 11. Clifford went to Iowa State University and he became co-inventor of the electronic computer. Together with John Vincent Atanasoff, he built the world's first electronic digital computer in 1940.

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