Apr. 3, 2005

April 3

by David Lehman

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Poems: "April 3," by David Lehman, from The Evening Sun © Scribner Poetry.

April 3

It's one thing to rage
against decrepit old age
it's another thing to drink
yourself to death and I don't know
what made me think of Dylan
Thomas's farm forever fled
like a fleeting cloud only this one
dominates the sky on this chilly gray
afternoon Alfonso walks Piazza
singles to left and we have runners
on the corners with nobody out
the winning run on third base
and Zeile hits a fly ball to right
that will tie it up and it's still
cloudy and cool but better than being
in the office on opening day

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of primatologist Jane Goodall, born in London, England (1934). When she left secondary school, she took a few secretarial courses and set off for Africa to study chimpanzees. In the first few months she was there, she made enough important discoveries to get long-term funding from Louis Leakey. In the '60s she went back to Cambridge for a Ph.D. Her advisor said that her work was too subjective, and that the names she had given the chimps—names like Flo, and Fifi, and David Greybeard—were unprofessional. He told her to assign each of the chimps numbers instead. She didn't say anything, but when she handed her dissertation in, the chimps still had names. They awarded her the degree anyway.

It's the birthday of Henry Robinson Luce, born in China (1898). After he got out of Yale University in 1923, he and his classmate Briton Hadden scraped together the money to found the weekly news magazine Time. They then went on to found Fortune magazine in 1930, Life magazine in 1936, and Sports Illustrated in 1954.

It's the birthday of the geologist Ralph Bagnold, born in England in 1896. He was stationed in Cairo between the wars—he was with the British Army Royal Engineers. He loved the desert, and loved to spend hours looking at the sand dunes, wondering how the wind shaped them. He did some experiments and in 1941, he published a book called The Physics of Blown Sand and Sand Dunes, which is still the classic work on the subject. It was used by NASA to help explain sand dunes on the planet Mars.

It was on this day in 1882 that Jesse James was gunned down at his home in St. Joseph, Missouri by the newest member of the James gang, Bob Ford. Ford shot James as he was standing on a chair, straightening a picture.

It's the birthday of the writer Washington Irving, born in New York City (1783). Early on in his career he edited a literary journal with his brothers called Salmagundi, and, in an essay he wrote for it, he referred to New York City as "the renowned and ancient city of Gotham." As far as anybody can tell, this was the first time the word "Gotham" had been used to describe the city. The original Gotham, in England, was a village legendary for the remarkable stupidity of its inhabitants.

It's the birthday of the poet George Herbert, born in Montgomery, Wales (1593). He came from a prominent family of warriors and statesmen, and great things were expected of him. As a young man, he was appointed public orator for Cambridge, a post that obliged him to turn out official poetry in Latin for state occasions. From there, he might have moved into higher office, and he did spend two years representing his district in Parliament, but after a fierce spiritual struggle, he decided to leave public life. He became the rector of a small, decaying church in Bemerton, near Salisbury. His parishioners loved him. He died three years later. He is remembered now for a single collection of poems, which he sent to a friend on his deathbed, asking him to publish them if they were good, and burn them if they weren't.

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