Dec. 26, 2004

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Poem: "The Meeting" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The Meeting

After so long an absence
      At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
      Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
      And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet's two or three berries
      In the top of the uttermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
      In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
      How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
      And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
      Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
      And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
      And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
      Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
      Steals over our merriest jests.

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is Boxing Day and St. Stephen's Day in England, Canada, and several other countries. The origins of this national holiday are not certain, but the holiday might have started from an old custom of wealthy estate-owners giving small gifts or money, wrapped in boxes, to their servants and those who worked for them. Servants were needed on Christmas to help with their masters' holiday events, so they often were given a rest the next day. St. Stephen is honored today for being the first Christian martyr, having been stoned to death for blasphemy.

It's the birthday of Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first calculating machine, born in London, England (1792). He was obsessed with the notion of mathematical accuracy in his work and surroundings. He was fed up with what he called the "intolerable labor and fatiguing monotony" of the hand-calculating of scientific tables, so he invented and built the Difference Engine, which could perform large calculations with the turn of a crank. He then set out to build the steam-powered Analytical Engine, which would have been the size of a locomotive, but he never found a way to make it work. He is also known for inventing the speedometer and the locomotive cowcatcher.

It's the birthday of poet and scholar Thomas Gray, born in London (1716). He gave us the phrase, "Where ignorance is bliss—'Tis folly to be wise." All of Thomas's early poems were written in Latin, of which he had remarkable control, but we know him for his masterful poem, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," which is considered one of the greatest poems of the English language. "The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,/The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,/The plowman homeward plods his weary way,/And leaves the world to darkness and to me."

It's the birthday of author Henry Miller, born in New York City (1891). He was rebellious by nature. He said, "From five to ten were the most important years of my life; I lived in the street and acquired the typical American gangster spirit."

With money his father gave him intended to finance him through Cornell, he went on a trip through the southwest and Alaska. When he returned he went to work in his father's tailor shop, but left after trying to unionize the workforce. After that, he ran a speakeasy in Greenwich Village, but eventually moved to France for nine years. While there, Henry wrote about his bohemian experiences in Tropic of Cancer (1934), of which he said, "This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty ... what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing." The book was immediately banned in the U.S. for its obscenities and graphically sexual content. In 1964, the Supreme Court finally ruled that Tropic of Cancer could not be suppressed. He had already sold two million copies of it by this time.

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