Sep. 19, 2004

Not Moving Even One Step

by Jane Hirshfield

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Poem: "Not Moving Even One Step" by Jane Hirshfield, from The Lives of the Heart © Harper Perennial, 1997. Reprinted with permission.

Not Moving Even One Step

The rain falling too lightly to shape
an audible house, an audible tree,
blind, soaking, the old horse waits in his pasture.

He knows the field for exactly what it is:
his limitless mare, his beloved.
Even the mallards sleep in her red body maned
in thistles, hooved in the new green shallows of spring.

Slow rain streams from the fetlocks, hips, the lowered head,
while she stands in the place beside him that no one sees.

The muzzles almost touch.
How silently the heart pivots on its hinge.

Literary Notes:

It's the anniversary of the day that poets Robert Browning, 34, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 44, eloped (1846). They had married secretly seven days earlier in St. Marylbone Church in London. Their witnesses were Robert's cousin James Silverthorne and Elizabeth's maid, Elizabeth Wilson. The next day, a Sunday afternoon, Robert wrote to her that she had proved her love for him and that he would spend his life trying to prove his affection for her. He wrote, "Do you feel what I mean, dearest? How you have dared and done all this, under my very eyes, for my only sake? My own eyes have seen—my heart will remember!"

The Brownings met for the first time in 1845 and over the next twenty months exchanged 574 letters. Elizabeth's father didn't want her to marry, so their courtship and marriage were kept a secret. During the six days between their wedding and the day they eloped to Florence, Elizabeth wrote letters to her friends and family, and to her father. Her letters revealed everything. They were her only goodbye. When the letters were read, she would be gone.

The night before they eloped, Elizabeth wrote to Robert, "Is this my last letter to you, ever dearest?—Oh, —if I loved you less ... a little, little less."

Robert and Elizabeth read and critiqued each other's poetry, and while together they wrote the best poetry of their lives. Robert often called Elizabeth "my little Portuguese" because of her dark complexion.

In 1850 she published her most famous work, a collection of poems called Sonnets from the Portuguese. In it, she wrote, "If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange / And be all to me?"

And, also from Sonnets from the Portuguese: "Beloved, my Beloved, when I think / That thou wast in the world a year ago, / What time I sat alone here in the snow / And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink ..."

On the morning of June 29, 1861, as Elizabeth lay dying, Robert fed her jelly with a spoon. "Our lives are held by God," she said. A short time later, she died in his arms.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Lord of the Flies (1954), William Golding, born in Cornwall, England (1911). Golding's parents pressured him to study the natural sciences at Oxford. But after two years, he decided to study English literature instead. His first book of poems was published a year later, in 1934.

After three formula novels were rejected in the late 1940's and early 1950's, Golding decided to write as his own heart and mind dictated. He said, "I believe that we have a great capacity for love and self-sacrifice, but we can't refuse to recognize that there is active human evil."

The result was Lord of the Flies (1954), about a group of English schoolboys who become stranded on a desert island and struggle for survival. One of the boys tries to establish a democracy, but a bunch of boys break off from the main group and it turns into violent anarchy. The book became a bestseller when it was discovered by American college students. It became a staple on high school and college reading lists and an international bestseller.

Golding wrote eleven more books, including The Spire (1964) and The Double Tongue (1995), and in 1983 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in 1993.

William Golding said, "Novelists do not write as birds sing, by the push of nature. It is part of the job that there should be much routine and some daily stuff on the level of carpentry."

On this day in 1995, The New York Times and The Washington Post published the Unabomber's Manifesto. The manifesto was a 35,000-word treatise that criticized science and modern technological advances. The first line read, "The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race." The cost of printing the treatise—estimated to be between $30,000 and $40,000—was shared by the Post and New York Times.

First mention of the manuscript came in a letter from the bomber to The New York Times in April 1995 promising to stop mailing bombs if the manifesto would be published in the newspaper, Time or Newsweek. The writer also demanded publication of several later installments.

Investigators hoped the manifesto's publication would sound familiar to people who knew him when he was younger. Some 50 or 60 copies of the manifesto also were distributed to college professors in hopes that they would notice some grammatical tic that would trigger a memory of a former student.

"It's extraordinarily well-written," said David Lindberg, a professor at the University of Wisconsin. "It's good prose. The sentences flow well into one another, the paragraphs are coherent. The Unabomber even knows how to punctuate, and that's a very rare gift."

His brother, David, who contacted authorities after he read the Unabomber's manifesto, turned Ted Kaczynski into the FBI. He had noticed similarities between the text and his brother Ted's writings.

Ted Kaczynski, 55, a former Berkeley math professor, had attended Harvard, taught at Berkeley, and spent twenty-six years living in a rural cabin in Lincoln, Montana. When federal authorities arrested him there in April of 1996, they found piles of writings and letters, as well as bomb-making ingredients. Kaczynski was accused of being responsible for one of the worst serial bombings ever in the United States. His defense team planned to argue that he was mentally ill, presumably a paranoid schizophrenic.

The typed original of the manifesto was found during the search of the cabin and matched to one of the typewriters removed from the cabin.

The publication of the manifesto sparked a heated debate over ethics in journalism. William Ketter, editor of the Patriot-Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts, and president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said publishing the manuscript "would open the pages of the newspaper to every nut case in the country."

Ted Kaczynski was incarcerated in 1998 and is serving four consecutive life sentences. He is in an ultra-maximum security prison in Colorado for murdering three and injuring dozens of others. Since then, his brother David has not had any contact with Ted, who refuses to answer his letters.

It's the birthday of Arthur Rackham, born in London (1867), one of the most famous illustrators of children's books. He worked for a long time as an insurance clerk to pay for his training at art school. He was a meticulous and hardworking illustrator. He took careful records of his models and supplies, and he always dressed in a neat, navy blue suit. In 1900 he got his first commission, to illustrate Grimm's Fairy Tales (1900), and he soon became famous for his highly imaginative drawings. By 1904 he was known as "the Goblin Master." He illustrated some of the most famous children's books, including Peter Pan (1906), Gulliver's Travels (1900), Mother Goose (1913), and Sleeping Beauty (1920).

By 1936, Rackham was suffering from cancer and was forced to rest at home. But he received a final commission to illustrate Kenneth Grahame's book The Wind in the Willows (1908). He was bedridden for nearly the entire project. When he finished the last picture Rackham said, "Thank goodness, that is the last one." Then he lay back in bed and died shortly afterward.

It's the anniversary of the death of President James A. Garfield in 1881. He died after spending nearly three months trying to recover from two bullet wounds. Garfield had only been president for four months before he was shot as he was about to board a train in Washington, D.C. A man named Charles J. Guiteau fired the shots. He was an unsuccessful lawyer, evangelist, and insurance salesman. He thought that Garfield owed him a position in the government and that Garfield was destroying the Republican Party.

The President's doctors could not find the bullets in his body. So they called Alexander Graham Bell to try out his invention called the "electromagnetic induction balance"—one of the first metal detectors. But no one realized that Garfield was lying on a bed made with metal springs—a rarity back then. Bell's machine emitted a constant hum, and the bullet was not found.

Eventually the wound became infected and the President died. Americans were angry and saddened. Abraham Lincoln had been shot sixteen years before, and it would be sixteen more before William McKinley would take office, the next president to be assassinated.

President James Garfield said, "I have had many troubles, but the worst of them never came."

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