May 18, 2003


by Theodore Roethke

SUNDAY, 18 MAY 2003
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Poem: "Transplanting," by Theodore Roethke from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke (Doubleday).


Watching hands transplanting,
Turning and tamping,
Lifting the young plants with two fingers,
Sifting in a palm-full of fresh loam,--
One swift movement,--
Then plumping in the bunched roots,
A single twist of the thumbs, a tamping and turning,
All in one,
Quick on the wooden bench,
A shaking down, while the stem stays straight,
Once, twice, and a faint third thump,--
Into the flat-box it goes,
Ready for the long days under the sloped glass:

The sun warming the fine loam,
The young horns winding and unwinding,
Creaking their thin spines,
The underleaves, the smallest buds
Breaking into nakedness,
The blossoms extending
Out into the sweet air,
The whole flower extending outward,
Stretching and reaching.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Persian poet, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer Omar Khayyam, born in Nishapur, Khurasan, Iran in 1048. When he was alive, he was famous for his scientific and mathematical achievements, which included a study of Euclid's definitions and extensive work on music and algebra. It wasn't until English poet Edward Fitzgerald translated his fragments of poetry into one great coherent work called the Rubaiyat that Khayyam became known as a poet. The poem encourages us to live life to the fullest and includes lines like "The Moving Finger writes, and, having writ, Moves on," and the verse:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

It's the birthday of Icelandic writer Gunnar Gunnarsson, born in Fljótsdalur, Iceland in 1889. He wrote novels about Iceland in the Danish language so he could reach a wider audience, and was one of the first internationally known writers of his country. From 1924 to 1928, he wrote a series of five long autobiographical novels celebrating Iceland, including Ships in the Sky and The Night and the Dream, translated into English in 1938.

It's the birthday of Patrick Dennis, born Edward Everett Tanner III in Evanston, Illinois in 1921. He's best known for his novel Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade in Biography (1955), the story of a flighty, eccentric, middle-aged woman based on Dennis' actual aunt. It became a Broadway musical and a successful movie.

It's the birthday of science fiction author Diane Elizabeth Duane, born in Manhattan in 1952. She was a psychiatrist before she published her first novel, The Door Into Fire (1979), the first of over thirty novels that include several collaborations with her husband, Peter Morwood. She said, "Those who don't know the mistakes of the past won't be able to enjoy it when they make them again in the future."

It's the birthday of British philosopher Bertrand Russell, born in Trelleck, Monmouthshire, England in 1872. He wrote about mathematics, logic, ethics, and social issues, and was one of the most widely read philosophers of the twentieth century. He emerged as an important philosopher with The Principles of Mathematics (1903), which argued that the foundations of mathematics can be deduced from a few logical ideas. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. He said, "It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this." And, "The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."

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