Oct. 6, 2004

The Garden

by Lee Robinson

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Poem: "The Garden" by Lee Robinson from Hearsay © Fordham University Press, New York, 2004. Reprinted with permission.

The Garden

Now that the teenagers
have taken the house -
long legs, loud shoes, sarcastic
tongues, their paraphernalia
winding from chair
to floor to stair
like some perverse
unstoppable vine - I retire
to the garden.

Nothing here
talks back. I learn
a language the children
don't speak: lantana,
hosta, portulaca. I have gloves
but seldom use them.
I like the dirt
under my fingernails,
the roughness that comes
from pulling weeds,
churning the soil for new beds.

It's time
to pitch the rusty swing set,
to rid the shed of punctured
volleyballs, old bicycles,
a decade of water guns,
time to fill it with peat moss
and new tools:

spade, trowel, rake,
all shiny, all mine.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1847, Charlotte Brontë published her novel Jane Eyre under the pseudonym "Currer Bell." It's a story about an orphan girl who grows up to become a governess, and it was an immediate success. In Jane Eyre, Brontë writes, "Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones."

On this day in 1930, William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying was published. Faulkner said that of all his books, he liked As I Lay Dying the best. He also said, "A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others."

It was on this day in 1927 The Jazz Singer was first released. It was the first talking motion picture widely and commercially released. It starred Al Jolson in black face, and was the first of a series of Jolson's "talking pictures." There are only a few minutes of actual singing in the movie when Jolson sings the song "Mammy" twice during the film and there are a few lines of dialogue. The rest is mainly instrumental musical accompaniment. The movie was a box-office hit, ending the era of the silent film.

The Jazz Singer has been remade twice: in 1953 starring Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee, and in 1980, starring Neil Diamond, Lucie Arnaz, and Laurence Olivier.

On this day in 1889, the Moulin Rouge (French for "red mill") opened its doors to the public. The cabaret was built by Joseph Oller in the red-light district of Pigalle near Montmartre, Paris, France. It is famous for the large red imitation windmill on its roof. Perhaps the best-known legacy of the Moulin Rogue is the dance called the "Can-Can." The origin of the Can-Can is traceable to Celeste Mogador, a popular polka dancer who created the dance for the music of Jacques Offenbach in about 1850. By 1861, it was being copied on the London stage and had been given the name French Cancan, meaning "French tittle-tattle." The dance is very demanding of its performers, each of whom must have superior qualities of balance, rhythm and stamina.

In those early days, a frequent occupant of a front-row barstool at the Moulin Rouge was gentleman named Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. An eccentric man in both manner and appearance, he was regularly accompanied by a glass of wine and a sketchpad. With his pencil he captured the movements and expressions of the dancers, and the faces of the drunken, approving crowd. Soon, his sketches became posters and the reputations of Toulouse-Lautrec and the Moulin Rouge became entwined.

It's the birthday of architect Le Corbusier, born Charles Edouard Jeanneret in Le-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland (1887). He was also an artist and a writer. He chose "Le Corbusier" as his pen name when he began writing articles for The New Spirit, a magazine he co-founded in Paris in 1920. He wore dark suits, bow ties and round horn-rimmed glasses, and his friends called him "Corbu."

Le Corbusier collected his articles in his first book, Toward a New Architecture (1923), and it became a big influence on other architects. He wrote, "Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light." His other books include The City of Tomorrow (1929), When the Cathedrals Were White (1947), and The Modular (1954).

In 1927 Le Corbusier participated in the competition set by the League of Nations for the design of its new centre in Geneva. His project proposed for the first time anywhere, an office building for a political organization that was not a Neoclassical temple but a functional structure. This plan was to become the model for all future United Nations buildings. It probably would have shared a first prize but was eliminated on the grounds of not having been written in India ink as the rules of the competition specified.

Le Corbusier said, "If you were to look down from the sky on the confused and intricate surface of the earth, it would be seen that human effort is identical throughout the ages and at every point. Temples, towns and houses are cells of identical aspect, and are made to the human scale. One might say that the human animal is like the bee, a constructor of geometrical cells."

Le Corbusier was the first architect to make a studied use of roughcast concrete. He is known for his functional designs for large concrete buildings and high-rise residential complexes, and for his misguided mega projects, urban-renewal schemes and regimented public housing. Le Corbusier loved Manhattan. He loved its newness, and he loved its tall buildings. He shared his one reservation when he landed in New York City in 1935. A headline in the Herald Tribune revealed that the celebrated architect found American skyscrapers much too small.

Le Corbusier said, "Architecture...must appeal to our bodily senses as well as to our spirits and our minds." Le Corbusier wanted to revive the basic tenets of good architecture. He believed the Classical ideas of proportion, harmony and balance were essential to good architecture.

Le Corbusier continued to create new projects until the end of his life: the Olivetti computer centre in Milan (1963), an art centre in Frankfurt (1963), the French embassy in Brasília (1964), and the Palais des Congrès in Strasbourg (1964). He died suddenly in 1965 while swimming and was given a national funeral, and in 1968 the Le Corbusier Foundation was created.

Le Corbusier writes, "Equilibrium means calm."

He said, "A house is a machine for living in."

It's the birthday of George Horace Lorimer, born in Louisville, Kentucky (1867). He edited The Saturday Evening Post for almost 40 years, from 1899 to 1937. Under his leadership the magazine became an enormous success—by 1922 it had a circulation of more than 2 million. He published some of the best writers of the time, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Joseph Conrad. In 1903, he bought the rights to publish Jack London's Call of the Wild for $700. In 1916, he hired a twenty-two-year-old artist whom few people had heard of to illustrate the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. The artist, Norman Rockwell, went on to design 317 covers for the magazine over the next 47 years.

Lorimer said, "Education is about the only thing lying around loose in the world, and it's about the only thing a fellow can have as much of as he's willing to haul away."

It's the birthday of soprano Jenny Lind, born in Stockholm, Sweden (1820). She is considered to be one of the most gifted sopranos ever. In 1840 she was appointed member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and official singer of the Swedish Court. She was known also as a great philanthropist.

Hans Christian Andersen fell in love with her, but she did not return his love. Among other stories, he wrote "The Nightingale" (1843) as a tribute to Jenny Lind. He said, "...she can never be mine...though her voice stays with me, forever, in my story..." Lind would later be known as "The Swedish Nightingale."

In 1848 she spend a lot of time in London with Chopin, who wrote about Lind in letters to his family and friends. He wrote, "Yesterday I was at a dinner with J. Lind, who afterwards sang me Swedish things till midnight." She came to Paris the next year to marry Chopin, but fled Paris a month later to get away from a cholera epidemic and political unrest. She wrote in a letter to a friend, "Things and experiences approached me which deeply affected my peace of mind...I was very near to marrying. But again it came to nothing."

After parting with Chopin, Jenny Lind no longer performed in operas, only in concerts. She toured the U. S. for a few years where she raised money for charity and married Otto Goldschmidt, her pianist. They settled in England where she died in 1887. Her memorial is at Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey in London, near that of Handel, and William Shakespeare.

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