Jan. 27, 2005

Winter Song

by Aaron Kramer

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Poem: "Winter Song" by Aaron Kramer, from Wicked Times. © University of Illinois Press. Reprinted with permission.

Winter Song

     Under a willow
     close by a brook
     her lap for a pillow
     her eyes for a book

     she like a drummer
     practiced her art
     all spring and all summer-
     the drum was my heart.

Hear how the willow sighs to the sun:
It is over and done with, over and done!
Hear the cold brook, that can hardly run:
It is over and done with, over and done!

     Under what maple
     close by what lake
     will she lie next April?
     Whose heart will she break?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Lewis Carroll, born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson near Daresbury, Chesire, England (1832). He is best known as the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel Through the Looking Glass (1872), and for the characters the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the White Rabbit and many others. Carroll was also a gifted mathematician and photographer. His photographs of children are still considered remarkable to this day.

Carroll read Pilgrim's Progress as a young boy, in part to prepare for a life in the ministry. But he suffered an attack of whooping cough at age 17, a late age to get that illness, and as a result he developed a stammer to go along with his natural shyness. After recovering from his illness, Carroll decided that life as a minister would be too demanding.

Instead, Carroll lectured in mathematics at Christ's College, Oxford, where he had also attended university. Carroll found the work dull and considered most of his students stupid, but he wrote seriously during this time. In 1855, he said, "I do not think I have yet written anything worthy of real publication, but I do not despair of doing so some day." The next year he published under the famous pseudonym "Lewis Carroll" for the first time, when his poem "Solitude" appeared in a magazine called Train.

Carroll always felt at ease around children. It has been rumored that his stammer would disappear while he talked with children. Nobody can say for certain if this is true, but Carroll was well-known as a storyteller, and he liked telling his stories to children. Carroll first came up with the idea for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by telling stories to the children of the dean of Christ's College, who had a daughter named Alice.

Carroll enjoyed massive success from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and his pseudonym grew into an alter ego that became famous in its own right. Even today, more people know the legends surrounding Lewis Carroll better than they know the biography of the real man, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. The stories of Alice and her adventures in the strange wonderland have remained popular to this day. Many readers speculate on the underlying meaning of the tales, but Carroll himself said he only intended the tales as carefree fantasy and nothing more.

Lewis Carroll said, "If only I could manage, without annoyance to my family, to get imprisoned for 10 years, without hard labour, and with the use of books and writing materials, it would be simply delightful!"

And, "If you set to work to believe everything, you will tire out the believing-muscles of your mind, and then you'll be so weak you won't be able to believe the simplest true things."

It's the birthday of the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg, in what is today Austria (1756). He is considered one of the most important composers the West has ever seen, along with Ludwig van Beethoven.

Mozart's father Leopold was one of Europe's leading music educators, and he gave his son intensive training in the piano and violin. The young Mozart developed so quickly that he began composing original work at five years old. Then Leopold took Mozart and his sister on several tours throughout Europe, where Mozart would write piano pieces for his sister to perform. Mozart was often ill during this time, and the cold weather and constant travel may have contributed to his early death. But Leopold was more concerned with money than the well being of his son.

Still, Mozart enjoyed many parts of his journeys. He met many famous musicians and composers. During a trip to Italy, Mozart amazed his hosts when he listened only once to the performance of a Gregario Allegri composition, and then wrote it out from memory, returning one more time to correct minor errors. Another time, Mozart encountered the glass harmonica, and he so enjoyed its sound that he composed several pieces of music for it.

Mozart visited Vienna in 1781, when he was working for a harsh archbishop. The two had a disagreement, and according to Mozart he was fired with a literal kick in the seat of his pants.

Mozart remained in Vienna thereafter, and in 1782 he married Constanze Weber, the sister of a woman he had loved years before. The couple had six children, but only two of them survived into adulthood. It was in Vienna that Mozart wrote his famous operas The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782) and The Marriage of Figaro (1786).

The circumstances of Mozart's early death are still speculated about today. Many people speculate that he died of mercury poisoning while being treated for syphilis, while others think he died from an illness brought on by a meal of badly cooked pork. Others insist that Mozart was murdered by his rival Antonio Salieri.

It is also popularly believed that Mozart died poor and forgotten, but that is not true. His popularity had declined, but his work was still in demand in Prague and other parts of Europe. His financial difficulties stemmed from his inability to live within his means, not from a lack of income. Mozart was buried in a mass grave because the country was battling an outbreak of bubonic plague, and not because his family could not afford a proper burial.

Mozart said, "When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer—say traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep—it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best, and most abundantly. Whence and how they come, I know not, nor can I force them."

And, "Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius."

It's the birthday of Jerome Kern, born in New York City (1885). He is best known as the composer of Broadway musicals like The Cat and the Fiddle (1931) and Roberta (1933).

Kern's mother encouraged his musical gifts from the time he was very young, but Kern's father wanted his son to join the family retail business. Kern followed his father at first. And then, when he was sixteen, Kern mistakenly ordered 200 pianos for the family retail store, when he was supposed to order only two. Kern had a long lunch with the factory owner who took his order, and the two of them got drunk, and so they failed to notice the mistake. Then all the pianos were delivered. Kern said, "You've no idea what that many pianos coming off a truck look like."

After this, Kern's father allowed him to study at the New York College of Music. Then Kern worked as a song-plugger and an in-house composer for a local publisher. When he was 19, Kern traveled to London, and he received his first real training in the theater. He also married his wife Eva there, in 1910. Kern and his wife returned to America, where he enhanced the scores of European musicals and worked as a rehearsal pianist. Then he met Oscar Hammerstein II, who became a lifelong friend, and the two collaborated on Show Boat in 1927. This musical gave us the songs "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." In 1933, Kern and Hammerstein produced Roberta, which included the famous song "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

Kern moved to Hollywood in 1935, and he enjoyed success there. He wrote "The Way You Look Tonight" for the movie Swing Time, and the song won an Academy Award™. In 1941, Kern and Hammerstein wrote "The Last Time I Saw Paris" because Paris had just been occupied by Nazi Germany, and that song also won an Academy Award.

Kern died in 1945 with Hammerstein at his side. At the memorial service, Hammerstein said of his friend Jerome Kern, "He stimulated everyone. He annoyed some. He never bored anyone at any time."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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