Jan. 3, 2005

That Silent Evening

by Galway Kinnell

Monday, 3 JANUARY, 2005
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Poem: "That Silent Evening" by Galway Kinnell, from The Past © Houghton Mifflin. Reprinted with permission.

That Silent Evening

I will go back to that silent evening
when we lay together and talked in low, silent voices,
while outside slow lumps of soft snow
fell, hushing as they got near the ground,
with a fire in the room, in which centuries
of tree went up in continuous ghost-giving-up,
without a crackle, into morning light.
Not until what hastens went slower did we sleep.
When we got home we turned and looked back
at our tracks twining out of the woods,
where the branches we brushed against let fall
puffs of sparkling snow, quickly, in silence,
like stolen kisses, and where the scritch scritch scritch
among the trees, which is the sound that dies
inside the sparks from the wedge when the sledge
hits it off center telling everything inside
it is fire, jumped to a black branch, puffed up
but without arms and so to our eyes lonesome,
and yet also - how could we know this? - happy!
in shape of chickadee. Lying still in snow,
not iron-willed, like railroad tracks, willing
not to meet until heaven, but here and there
making slubby kissing stops in the field,
our tracks wobble across the snow their long scratch.
Everything that happens here is really little more,
if even that, than a scratch, too. Words, in our mouths,
are almost ready, already, to bandage the one
whom the scritch scritch scritch, meaning if how when
we might lose each other, scratches scratches scratches
from this moment to that. Then I will go back
to that silent evening, when the past just managed
to overlap the future, if only by a trace,
and the light doubles and shines
through the dark the sparkling that heavens the earth.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of J.R.R. Tolkien, born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1892. He's the creator of a world called Middle Earth and its inhabitants, characters like hobbits Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, as well as dragons, trolls, elves, goblins, and other creatures. Educated at Oxford during the outbreak of WWI, he spent his free time writing poetry and inventing languages, until he was called to the Western Front and fought at the Battle of Somme—he fought in and out of the trenches for four months until he was hospitalized with trench fever. During his long recovery he wrote tales about elves that later became The Silmarillion. But it wasn't until about 1930 that he started his most famous works—as an English professor, he was grading papers one day and was bored, and in a fit of daydreaming he wrote on one of the papers' pages, "In a hole in a ground there lived a hobbit...." The novel The Hobbit followed, published in 1937—and then came a sequel trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. From his introduction to the original edition of The Hobbit:

"If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck), here is a record of such a journey and such a traveler."

It's the birthday today of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, author, and orator, born in 106 B.C. in Arpinum, in modern-day Italy. He was a member of the Roman Senate, and a friend and follower of General Pompey the Great, who was the archenemy of the emperor Julius Caesar.

It was on this day in 1946 that Evelyn Waugh's most popular novel, Brideshead Revisited, was published.

And it was on this day in 1521 that German reformer Martin Luther, 38, was excommunicated from the Catholic Church by Pope Leo X for challenging the church doctrine. Luther was a professor of biblical interpretation at the time, at a university in Germany, and he'd just drawn up his 95 theses condemning the church for the selling of indulgences—or the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V called him to defend himself later that year, but Luther was defiant, and for it he was declared an outlaw and a heretic.

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