May 23, 2003

A Boy Goes into the World

by Jane Kenyon

FRIDAY, 23 MAY 2003
(RealAudio) | How to listen

"A Boy Goes into the World," by Jane Kenyon from Let Evening Come (Graywolf Press).

A Boy Goes into the World

My brother rode off on his bike
into the summer afternoon, but
mother called me back
from the end of the sandy drive:
"It's different for girls."

He'd be gone for hours, come back
with things: a cocoon, gray-brown
and papery around a stick;
a puff ball, ripe, wrinkled,
and exuding spores; owl pellets --
bits of undigested bone and fur;
and pieces of moss that might
have made toupees for preposterous
green men, but went instead
into a wide-necked jar for a terrarium.

He mounted his plunder on poster
board, gluing and naming
each piece. He has long since
forgotten those days and things, but
I at last can claim them as my own.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Thomas Hood, born in London (1799). His father was a successful author and bookseller, but Hood originally thought to make a life as an engraver. Influenced by his uncle, he worked at engraving until his joined the staff of London Magazine as a sub-editor at the age of 22. In 1826, he published Whims and Oddities, a collection of comic poems that was very well received. He became well known for his black humor. Though his comic writing earned him more praise during his lifetime, his most enduring poems have been those that deal with the issues of social injustice and gender inequality, such as The Last Man, The Bridge of Sighs, and The Lay of the Laborer.

It's the birthday of writer and reporter Margaret Fuller, born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts (1810). She was the eldest of 9 children. Her father put her through a rigorous course of study, and she was able to read Latin fluently by the age of 6 and had moved on to the work of Shakespeare and Cervantes by the age of 12. In 1836, she taught at a school in Providence, Rhode Island until moving to Boston 3 years later. There she became immersed in the American transcendentalist movement, which was spearheaded by such prominent authors as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom she had met several years earlier. In 1840, the transcendentalist journal The Dial was launched, with Fuller and Emerson as its first co-editors.

It's the birthday of children's author Margaret Wise Brown, born in Brooklyn, New York (1910). She's known for writing such classics of children's literature as Goodnight Moon (1947), The Runaway Bunny (1942), and The Little Island, which won the Caldecott Medal in 1947. As a child, she was described as the "family storyteller, trickster, and daydreamer." After publishing her first book in 1937, she began writing children's books prolifically. At the height of her career, Margaret was writing for six different publishers under five pen names. Brown loved animals as a child, and used them as the main characters in many of her books. She said, "I had thirty-six rabbits, two squirrels-one bit me and dropped dead-a collie dog, two Peruvian guinea pigs, a Belgian hare, and seven fish and a wild robin who came back every spring." Margaret had a very strong sense of the types of stories that young children wanted to read. During a time when most children's books were fables or fairy tales, Margaret wrote about everyday life and encounters. She authored over one hundred books before her untimely death at the age of 42.

On this day in 1911, the New York Pubic Library was dedicated in a ceremony presided over by President William Howard Taft. It took 14 years to complete at a cost of $9 million. At the end of the 19th century, New York was one of the largest cities in the world, and yet it still had no public library large enough to serve its citizens. In 1886, Gov. Samuel Tilden left $2.4 million to "establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York." The two leading city libraries at that time agreed to merge their assets with Tilden's capital, and the dedication of the library occurred exactly sixteen years later to the day. When the library first opened its doors on May 24th, there were one million volumes on its shelves, and 40,000 curious visitors. Today, it is easily the largest public library in the United States, with over 2 million card-carrying members.

It's the birthday of poet Jane Kenyon, born in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1947). She received her degree in English from the University of Michigan and married poet Donald Hall who was her professor. They moved to Eagle Pond Farm in New Hampshire, his family home of several generations. There she wrote about nature, the changing of the seasons, and quiet country life. She published only four books of poetry before she died from leukemia at the age of 47, one month before her birthday. She was the state poet of New Hampshire at the time.

It's the birthday of the Father of Taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, born in Stenbrohult, Sweden (1707). His father was a Lutheran pastor and an avid gardener and young Linnaeus was interested in plants from a young age. In 1735 he published the first edition of his classification of living things, Systema Naturae, for which he became famous. What survives of the Linnean system today is its method of hierarchical classification and custom of binomial nomenclature. He attached great significance to the then recent discovery of the sexual reproduction of plants. He wrote, "The flowers' leaves. . . serve as bridal beds which the Creator has so gloriously arranged, adorned with such noble bed curtains, and perfumed with so many soft scents that the bridegroom with his bride might there celebrate their nuptials with so much the greater solemnity. . ." This was controversial, and he attracted some critics. He got his revenge though, by naming insignificant weeds after them.

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