Mar. 20, 2005

SUNDAY, 20 MARCH, 2005
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Poem: "6" by Hayden Carruth, from Collected Shorter Poems. © Copper Canyon. Reprinted with permission.


Dearest, I never knew such loving. There
in that glass tower in the alien city, alone,
we found what somewhere I had always known
exists and must exist, this fervent care,
this lust of tenderness. Two were aware
how in hot seizure, bone pressed to bone
and liquid flesh to flesh, each separate moan
was pleasure, yes, but most in the other's share.
Companions and discoverers, equal and free,
so deep in love we adventured and so far
that we became perhaps more than we are,
and now being home is hardship. Therefore are we
diminished? No. We are of the world again
but still augmented, more than we've ever been.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1852 that Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. It's considered one of the most important novels in American history. The book's author was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the daughter of a famous Congregationalist preacher. Her brothers and husband were ministers, too, and Stowe herself had a strong Christian faith and wrote essays and articles about the value of temperance.

Stowe lived with her husband in Cincinnati, Ohio, a city on the Ohio River that separated North from South. Stowe met many fugitive slaves who had escaped bondage in the South, and so Stowe learned a lot about the life of slaves. In 1849 her son Samuel Charles, just eighteen months old, died of cholera. For the first time, Stowe thought she could imagine the grief of a slave mother, separated from her children, with almost no chance of seeing them again. She became a fierce abolitionist, and she began to write Uncle Tom's Cabin after her family had moved far north, into Maine.

Uncle Tom's Cabin was actually published serially at first, in the abolitionist paper National Era. Stowe had trouble keeping up with the demanding monthly deadlines because she was learning about the culture of the South even as she wrote about it. Stowe failed to meet her deadline only once in two years, pouring the words onto the page with an intensity she considered divinely inspired. Stowe said, "The Lord Himself wrote it. I was but an instrument in His hand."

Uncle Tom's Cabin sold 300,000 copies in its first year in print. In the North and in Europe, Harriet Beecher Stowe was hailed as a hero of anti-slavery movements. In the South, she became a hated figure. But the book's influence cannot be denied; some even credit it for helping bring about the Civil War. The book was translated into 20 languages, and it was imitated on stage and in song. Many of the characters, including the title character, are still well known to this day.

It was on this day in 1854 that the Republican Party was founded. The name "Republican" was first used many years before, by Thomas Jefferson's political party, the Democratic Republican Party. That name was shortened to the Democratic Party, which is what we call it today. The present-day Republican Party was formed by opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and by members of other parties, like the Democratic and Whig parties, who disagreed with their parties' positions on slavery. By 1855, the Republican Party was thriving in the North, while it had almost no following in the South. The Republican Party's second candidate for President of the United States was Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860.

It's the birthday of the playwright Henrik Ibsen, born in Skien, Norway (1828). He is widely regarded as the father of modern drama. Ibsen helped bring an end to the style of Romantic drama by bringing the day's problems and ideas into the lives of his characters. Oscar Wilde once said, after seeing an Ibsen play, "I felt pity and terror, as though the play had been Greek."

Ibsen's father was a prosperous merchant, but a series of poor financial decisions caused the family to sink in social and economic class, and young Ibsen was miserable. He developed a strong mistrust for society and class, and this would be the primary influence behind much of his writing. Also, when Ibsen was twenty, a revolution swept Norway, and Ibsen was attracted by the ideals of personal freedom and liberty.

Henrik Ibsen hoped to become a physician, but he failed the entrance examinations, so he began to write plays. He became the stage poet of a small theatre in Bergen, and they sent him on study tours to Denmark and Germany. When he returned to Norway, Ibsen became the artistic director of the new Norwegian Theatre, but it eventually went bankrupt and Ibsen was assigned to another theatre. During this time, he wrote several plays, such as The Pretenders (1864) and Love's Comedy (1862). But none of these plays were successful, and Ibsen was humiliated by their failures.

Then, in 1864, Ibsen received a government grant to travel abroad, and he did so for the next 27 years. He returned to Norway briefly and infrequently during this time. Ibsen lived in Rome, Munich and Dresden. He wrote some of his most famous plays, including Brand (1866), Peer Gynt (1867) and A Doll's House (1879).

It's the birthday of Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso), the poet who gave us the Metamorphoses, born in Sulmo, present-day Sulmona (43 B.C.). Ovid holds a special place in Western literary history, being a bridge from Golden Age poets like Virgil and Horace, to Silver Age poets like Lucan and Statius. Ovid was the first major Roman poet to live his entire life at the beginning of the Roman Empire.

After his brother died, Ovid became the focus of his family's ambitions for success. He was trained for a career in government, studying in Rome with famous rhetoricians like Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro. Ovid became the administrator of the mint and of prisons and executions before becoming the first Roman senator from Sulmona. But Ovid preferred the life of a poet, and he liked his literary friends, and so he gave up his career in government to pursue poetry full-time.

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