Mar. 5, 2005

Winter Lambs

by Jane Kenyon

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Poem: "Winter Lambs" by Jane Kenyon, from Otherwise. © Graywolf. Reprinted with permission.

Winter Lambs

All night snow came upon us
with unwavering intent—
small flakes not meandering
but driving thickly down. We woke
to see the yard, the car and road
heaped unrecognizably.

The neighbors' ewes are lambing
in this stormy weather. Three
lambs born yesterday, three more
     Felix the ram looked
proprietary in his separate pen
while fatherhood accrued to him.
The panting ewes regarded me
with yellow-green, small—
pupiled eyes.

I have a friend who is pregnant—
plans gone awry—and not altogether
pleased. I don't say she should
be pleased. We are creation's
property, its particles, its clay
as we fall into this life,
agree or disagree.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1933 that the Nazi Party won 44 percent of the vote in German parliamentary elections, enabling it to join with the Nationalists to gain a slight majority in the Reichstag.

Hitler had become chairman of the Nazi party in 1921, and two years later he tried to topple the German republican government in the "beer-hall putsch." Nazi storm troopers surrounded government officials during a meeting at a beer hall in Munich. The troopers forced the officials to swear allegiance to the Nazi revolution. But the coup was defeated and Hitler fled, then he was captured and imprisoned. While in prison, Hitler dictated his autobiography Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to a sympathetic scribe, and the book became important to Nazism.

The failed coup made Hitler famous, and the Nazi party capitalized on the economic depression of 1929, as well as the heavy reparations Germany was made to pay for World War I, and they became a powerful force in Germany. In 1932, Hitler ran for president of Germany, but lost. The next year, he became the chancellor. Just before the parliamentary elections in 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire, which led to the Reichstag Fire Decree, which rescinded habeas corpus and other protective laws. The following week, March 5, 1933, the Nazi Party won a slight majority in the elections. Within three weeks, the Nazi-dominated Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which gave Hitler dictatorial powers and ended the Weimar Republic in Germany.

It's the birthday of the novelist Frank Norris, born in Chicago (1870). Norris's father was a self-made man, a wealthy jeweler, and Norris grew up in luxurious homes in Chicago and then San Francisco. His mother read poetry to him, especially Robert Browning and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

At 17, Norris went to Paris to study drawing, even though he had very little talent himself. He found his talent as a writer when he became obsessed with Arthurian legends. Norris began writing long, narrative poems about medieval knights, and he forgot about visual art altogether. Then, at his father's urging, Frank Norris began attending the University of California. His father wanted Norris to take over the family jewelry business, but Norris was a poor student. He took only those courses that interested him, and he spent much of his time partying with his fraternity. He spent four years at the university, without graduating.

Then, Norris moved to Boston, and enrolled at Harvard as a special student. Norris had been imitating the writing of Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but a teacher at Harvard introduced him to the writing of Emile Zola, a naturalist. Norris was impressed, and he began to write fiction from a naturalist perspective, which painted humans as irrational, instinctual animals.

Norris's most famous and important novel is McTeague (1899), about a man who kills his wife for money, and flees to Death Valley.

It's the birthday of Josephine Herbst, born in Sioux City, Iowa (1892). She is known for her novels Money for Love (1929) and The Executioner Waits (1934), and for her journalism that described life in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Herbst wrote articles on the Spanish Civil War and Cuba, but she wanted most to learn about Nazi Germany and the underground culture that was opposed to Hitler. She was assigned by the New York Post to travel to Germany, undercover, and learn all that she could. Herbst spent a month in Nazi Germany in 1935, and she was one of the first American reporters to warn about the meaning of the rise of Adolf Hitler.

It's the birthday of Leslie Marmon Silko, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico (1948). Silko grew up on the Laguna Pueblo reservation and is best known for her novels Ceremony (1977) and Almanac of the Dead (1992). Her books are about the increasing disappearance of Native American cultures.

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