Sep. 16, 2003

The New Father

by Russell Edson

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Poem: "The New Father," by Russell Edson, from The Tormented Mirror (University of Pittsburgh Press).

The New Father

   A young woman puts on her father's clothes and says to her mother, I'm your new husband.
   Just you wait till your father gets home, scolds the mother.
   He's already home, says the young woman.
   Please don't do this to your father, he's worked so hard all his life, says the mother.
   I know, says the young woman, he needs a rest.

   When the father gets home he's dressed in his daughter's clothes. And as he steps into the house he calls, hi mom and dad, I'm home ...

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of James J. Hill, one of America's most successful railroad tycoons, born in southern Ontario (1838). By 1870, Hill had established his own railroad company and laid track to the Red River Valley in western Minnesota and the Dakotas. He eventually began construction of a line from the Twin Cities to Seattle. The land he purchased was full of valuable resources, and thousands of settlers followed his railroad across the Great Plains. By 1893, the track was finished, and his Great Northern company ran the only private transcontinental railroad.

In 1830 a twenty-one-year old law student named Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the poem "Old Ironsides." Two days before, an article had suggested that "Old Ironsides," the nickname for the navy ship called the USS Constitution, be declared unfit for service and dismantled. Holmes's poem was printed the next day by most newspapers in the country, and the ship was not taken out of the water.

It's the birthday of the English writer known for his play The Beggar's Opera, John Gay, born to a poor family in Barnstaple, England (1685). Ten years later both his parents died and Gay tried working for a silk merchant. He hated being confined to one room all day and said the job was destroying him mentally and physically. He decided to quit and began to make his name as a satirist. He wrote about rural English life under the guidance of Alexander Pope. His most famous work is the play The Beggar's Opera, which was first performed in 1728. It's a social and political satire that he wrote for England's middle and lower classes. The play's heroes are a beggar, a highwayman, a jailer's daughter, and a few whores, and they act out the human corruption Gay saw in all levels of English society and government. The Beggar's Opera was the most widely performed play in the eighteenth century.

It's the birthday of poet and scholar Alfred Noyes, born in Wolverhampton, England (1880). He's best known for his poem "The Highwayman," which contains the lines, "And the highwayman came riding / Riding-riding- / The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door."

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