Aug. 2, 2004

The Garden

by R. S. Thomas

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Poem: "The Garden" by R. S. Thomas, from Collected Poems 1945-1990 © J. M. Dent, 1993. Reprinted with Permission.

The Garden

It is a gesture against the wild,
The ungovernable sea of grass;
A place to remember love in,
To be lonely for a while;
To forget the voices of children
Calling from a locked room;
To substitute for the care
Of one querulous human
Hundreds of dumb needs.

It is the old kingdom of man.
Answering to their names,
Out of the soil the buds come,
The silent detonations
Of power wielded without sin.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the official signing of the Declaration of Independence, 1776. Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on the cool, sunny morning of July 4 in Philadelphia. On July 6 the first newspaper version of the Declaration appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post. The Declaration was read publicly in Philadelphia on July 8, and on the next day Washington ordered that his own copy be read to the American army in New York. Ten days later Congress ordered the Declaration officially inscribed and signed by members. The signing began on August 2. Called "Dunlap's Broadsides," twenty—four original copies of the Declaration of Independence are known to exist. Two are kept in the Library of Congress.

It's the birthday of Isabel Allende, born in Lima, Peru (1942). Her father was a Chilean diplomat, so the family moved around and she grew up in Chile, Bolivia, Europe, and the Middle East. Her uncle was Salvador Allende, the Chilean president. He was a radical socialist and his reforms led to military uprising in 1973. He was killed. She fled to Venezuela and left behind her beloved grandfather, on his deathbed. On January 8, 1981, she began a long letter to her grandfather, and that letter became her first novel, The House of the Spirits (1982). It is the story of four generations of a Chilean family and has been translated into over thirty languages.

She said, "In that book I intended to save the past, to gather again the loved ones, to bring the dead back to life. I wanted to recover all that I had lost, my land, my family, the objects that had been with me during all my life, my memories, and the memories of those who were no longer with me."

Allende's seventh book, Paula, also began as a letter which she wrote in 1991 to her daughter who had become very ill and had fallen into a coma from which she would never awake. Part One begins, "Listen, Paula, I am going to tell you a story, so that when you wake up you will not feel so lost." It is the story of Isabel's life and the life of the family her daughter was leaving. It was published in 1994 to huge literary acclaim, two years after Paula's death.

On this day in 1869, George Eliot began Middlemarch. George Eliot was the pseudonym of novelist, translator, and religious writer Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880). It was published by Blackwood in parts from 1871-2 and was a great public success and brought her wealth and fame.

It's the birthday of writer James Baldwin, born in poverty—stricken Harlem, New York (1924), best known for his collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son (1955). He said, "If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you're not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real."

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