Jul. 27, 2004

This Room

by John Ashbery

TUESDAY, JULY 27, 2004
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Poem: from "Thoughts in a Garden," by Andrew Marvell.

from Thoughts in a Garden

     What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

     Meanwhile the mind from pleasure less
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that Ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Michael Longley, born in Belfast, Northern Ireland (1939). He's part of the influential group of Northern Irish poets that includes Seamus Heaney. He has written many books of poetry, including Gorse Fires (1991), The Ghost Orchid (1995), and, most recently, The Weather in Japan (2000).

It's the birthday of Indian-American novelist Bharati Mukherjee, born in Calcutta, India (1940). She's the author of novels like The Holder of the World (1993) and Desirable Daughters (2002). She grew up in a wealthy Brahmin family, surrounded by servants and bodyguards. She wanted to be a writer from the time she was eight years old, when she fell in love with Russian novelists like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. One night, her father had a group of American scholars over for dinner, and he said to them, "I want [my] daughter to be a writer, where do I send her?" They told him to send her to the Iowa Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa, so that's where she went. She became a United States citizen, and in 1988 she became the first naturalized citizen to win the National Book Critics Circle Award for her short story collection The Middleman and Other Stories (1988).

It's the birthday of poet Hilaire Belloc, born in Paris, France (1870). He moved to England as a young man and worked as a journalist and essayist, but he's best known today for his poetry about naughty children. He said, "When I am dead / I hope it may be said / 'His sins were scarlet, / But his books were read.'"

It's the birthday of Joseph Mitchell, born in Fairmont, North Carolina (1908). He's been called the best reporter to ever write for The New Yorker magazine. He wrote about eccentric people living on the fringe in New York City, including gypsies, alcoholics, the homeless, fishmongers, and a band of Mohawk Indians who had no fear of heights and worked as riveters on skyscrapers and bridges. Most of his journalism is collected in the book Up in the Old Hotel (1992).

It's the birthday of Elizabeth Hardwick, born in Lexington, Kentucky (1916). She's the author of novels such as The Ghostly Lover (1945) and The Simple Truth (1955), but she is best known as an essayist.

It's the fiftieth anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953. At the end of World War II, Korea had been divided along the 38th parallel. The Soviet Union controlled the north and the United States controlled the south. On June 25th, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. President Harry Truman ordered a military police action to stop the invasion. Douglas MacArthur led the United States' army, and he almost won the war in what he called his "Home By Christmas" offensive. But near the end of November 1950, Chinese forces entered the war and drove MacArthur and the Americans back to the 38th parallel.

The war dragged on for months. Truce negotiations began the next year and they were the longest truce negotiations in the history of warfare: they lasted two years and seventeen days, with 575 meetings between the opposing sides. Dwight D. Eisenhower ran for president in 1952 on the platform that he would end the war, and when he was elected that's what he did. The armistice was signed on this day in 1953. Truman said that if he had signed the same armistice, the Republicans would have drawn and quartered him.

Almost 35,000 Americans were killed in the conflict, and more than 5,000 were captured or went missing. The Korean War was the first war the United States had concluded without success. There were no celebrations when it came to an end.

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