Mar. 22, 2005


by Mary Oliver

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Poem: "Landscape" by Mary Oliver, from Dream Work. © The Atlantic Monthly Press. Reprinted with permission.


Isn't it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn't it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I'm alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Marcel Marceau, born in Strasburg, France (1923), who managed, almost single-handedly, to revive the ancient art of pantomime in the second half of the 20th century. He was active in the French Resistance during World War Two, and then, after the war, founded his own mime troupe (1948). He became the world's best-known mime, and his most famous character was the clown 'Bip,' in sailor pants and striped jacket. Marceau also devised the mime-drama Don Juan (1964) and the mime-ballet Candide (1971).

It's the birthday of novelist Nicholas Monsarrat, born in Liverpool (1910). He served in the Royal Navy during World War II, working on the Atlantic convoy runs. He wrote a novel about it during the war: H.M. Corvette (1942). But he's best known for another sea saga, The Cruel Sea (1951), about life on board a small ship in wartime.

It's the birthday of western writer Louis L'Amour, born in Jamestown, North Dakota (1908). He left school at 15 to travel the world, exploring much of the American West and working for a while as a miner. He also traveled to East Africa, and worked as an elephant handler, a lumberjack, a boxer, and a migrant farm worker. In his thirties, L'Amour began writing novels about life on the western frontier. His first big success was Hondo (1953-later made into a John Wayne movie). All through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s he wrote several books a year—one hundred of them in all—which sold over 200 million copies worldwide.

It's the birthday of French-Canadian writer Gabrielle Roy, born in St-Boniface, Manitoba (1909). She lived in Montréal and wrote many French-language novels set there, including Bonheur d'occasion (translated as The Tin Flute, 1945).

It's the birthday of illustrator Randolph Caldecott, born in Chester, England (1846). He illustrated books by Washington Irving, and the poem The House that Jack Built (1878). The Caldecott Medal, awarded each year to the illustrator of the best American picture book for children, was named for him.

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