Jun. 23, 2004

It is Marvellous to Wake Up Together

by Elizabeth Bishop

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Poem: "It is Marvellous ..." by Elizabeth Bishop, from American Poetry Review. © Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Reprinted with permission.

It Is Marvellous ...

It is marvellous to wake up together
At the same minute; marvellous to hear
The rain begin suddenly all over the roof,
To feel the air clear
As if electricity had passed through it
From a black mesh of wires in the sky.
All over the roof the rain hisses,
And below, the light falling of kisses.

An electrical storm is coming or moving away;
It is the prickling air that wakes us up.
If lightning struck the house now, it would run
From the four blue china balls on top
Down the roof and down the rods all around us,
And we imagine dreamily
How the whole house caught in a bird-cage of lightning
Would be quite delightful rather than frightening;

And from the same simplified point of view
Of night and lying flat on one's back
All things might change equally easily,
Since always to warn us there must be these black
Electrical wires dangling. Without surprise
The world might change to something quite different,
As the air changes or the lightning comes without our blinking,
Change as our kisses are changing without our thinking.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Midsummer Night's Eve, celebrated for thousands of years during the same week as the summer solstice. Midsummer Night's Eve is a time for lovers. An old Swedish proverb says, "Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking."

It's also known as St. John's Eve; St. John is the patron saint of beekeepers, and Midsummer Night's Eve is a time when the hives are full of honey. The full moon that occurs this month used to be called the Mead Moon, because honey was fermented to make mead, and that's where the word "honeymoon" comes from.

Shakespeare set his play A Midsummer Night's Dream on this night. It tells the story of two young couples who wander into a magical forest outside Athens.

On this day in 1868, the first typewriter was patented by Chistopher Latham Sholes. It only had capital letters and it took up as much room as a large table. Typists didn't know if they were making errors because the paper was inside the machine. Typewriters were slow sellers at first, but Mark Twain bought one almost as soon as they came out, and in 1883 Twain sent the manuscript of his book Life on the Mississippi (1883) to his publisher in typed form, the first author ever to do so.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer David Leavitt, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1961). When he was twenty-two years old and still a senior in college, he published his first short story, "Territory," in The New Yorker. It was the first story to appear in The New Yorker in which the characters were explicitly homosexual, and it created a big stir when it came out. Leavitt's Collected Stories came out last year. His latest book is a novel called The Body of Jonah Boyd, published last month.

It's the birthday of playwright Jean Anouilh, born in Bordeaux, France (1910). His work spanned five decades, and his plays include The Lark (1953), The Waltz of the Toreadors (1952) and Becket (1961).

It's the birthday of Alfred C. Kinsey, born in Hoboken, New Jersey (1894). He's known to us today as a famous sex researcher, but he started out as a zoologist who specialized in gall wasps. As a professor at Indiana University, he directed several biological explorations of the habits of the gall wasp in Mexico and Central America. He traveled more than 80,000 miles collecting the wasps, and he and his colleagues catalogued more than three million specimens, recording twenty-eight measurements on each wasp.

In 1938, Kinsey took a course at Indiana on the subject of fitting students for married life. He became interested in human sexual behavior, and he set out to study it in the same methodical way that he had studied gall wasps. In 1942, he and his team of researchers interviewed more than 5,000 men and 5,000 women, asking them questions about their sex lives.

He published his findings in his 1948 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). He revealed that masturbation, premarital sex and homosexual acts were more prevalent than people thought. The book sold more than 500,000 copies, even though it was more than 800 pages long and cost $6.50, a lot of money for a book in those days. In 1953, Kinsey published a follow-up, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which landed him on the cover of Time magazine.

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