Jun. 14, 2003


by Ruthven Todd

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Poem: "Revenge," by Ruthven Todd from Garland for the Winter Solstice: Selected Poems (Little Brown and Co.).


Following a cruel winter with hard sudden frosts
The old man died. His sons who had neglected
Him so long found less than they'd expected-
Advice and an old chart the sum of his bequests.
This plan was neatly plotted to a careful scale,
And showed where, near half a world away,
Treasure was hidden on a summer's day
By one who sacked a city for its spoil.

The brothers met great trouble with their ship,
Encountered waterspouts and twisted fishes
That were to them the emblems of lost hope,
For, when they dug, they saw no hidden riches,
Nothing but lugworms in the shifting sand--
Which was exactly as the old man planned.

Literary Notes:

Today is Flag Day in our country: the government officially adopted the stars and stripes as our national flag on this day in 1777, making the flag 226 years old. No one knows the exact origins of the first American flag, but it was probably designed by Congressman Francis Hopkinson and was sewn by Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross. The 50 stars on today's flag represent the nation's 50 states and the 13 stripes represent the 13 original states. The color red signifies hardiness and valor; white, purity and innocence; and blue, vigilance, perseverance and justice.

It's the birthday of Polish novelist Jerzy Kosinski, born in Lodz, Poland in 1933. He's the author of The Painted Bird (1968), about a six year-old boy who becomes separated from his parents and wanders through the area along the Polish-Soviet border during World War II. He meets a series of cruel, violent peasants who subject him to all sorts of miseries and abuses, like hanging from a rafter just out of reach of a vicious dog. Kosinski claimed the book was based on his own experience, and for a long time it was considered to be a memoir. But later it was discovered that he made the whole story up: he had actually spent World War II in the comfort of his parents' home.

It's the birthday of American novelist Carolyn Chute, born in Portland, Maine in 1947, author of the novels Snow Man (1999) and The Beans of Egypt Maine (1985), about a poor family who lives in a trailer home with Christmas lights up all year long. Carolyn Chute dropped out of high school and got married when she was 16 years old, worked on a potato farm for many years, and became a grandmother by the time she was 37. She said she considers herself a redneck, and she said, "Working-class people aren't big on formal introductions and small talk. We use much more body language and humility. We tend to mumble and say 'you know' a lot."

It's the birthday of American writer John Edgar Wideman, born in Washington, D.C. in 1941, author of the novels Sent for you Yesterday (1984) and Philadelphia Fire (1990). He has also published many books and articles on jazz, basketball, and race in America. He said, "The best thing and the worst thing about life is that you don't know what is going to happen."

It's the birthday of the woman who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe, born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1811. Her mother died when she was five, and her father was a Congregational minister who preached anti-slavery sermons. In 1832, Harriet moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio. Ohio didn't allow slaves but Cincinnati was right across the Ohio River from Kentucky, which did allow slaves. Harriet saw slaves trying to escape north by running across the frozen river, and later discovered that her servant was a runaway slave. She moved to Maine after a couple of years, but her experiences in Cincinnati formed the basis for Uncle Tom's Cabin. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, which made it illegal for citizens of free states to give aid to runaway slaves. Harriet didn't like the new law and reacted by writing a book that humanized slavery by telling the story of individuals and families. Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in serial form in 1851, and when the book came out in 1852 it became a huge best seller all across the world. It's about a slave who is bought and sold three times before being beaten to death by his last owner.

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