Apr. 22, 2005


by Louise Gluck

FRIDAY, 22 APRIL, 2005
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Poem: "Nostos," by Louise Glück, from Meadowlands (Harper Collins).


There was an apple tree in the yard —
this would have been
forty years ago — behind,
only meadows. Drifts
off crocus in the damp grass.
I stood at that window:
late April. Spring
flowers in the neighbor's yard.
How many times, really, did the tree
flower on my birthday,
the exact day, not
before, not after? Substitution
of the immutable
for the shifting, the evolving.
Substitution of the image
for relentless earth. What
do I know of this place,
the role of the tree for decades
taken by a bonsai, voices
rising from tennis courts —
Fields. Smell of the tall grass, new cut.
As one expects of a lyric poet.
We look at the world once, in childhood.
The rest is memory.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet Louise Glück, born in New York City (1942), author of The Triumph of Achilles (1985), The Wild Iris (1993), and Vita Nova (1999).

It is the birthday of jazz bass player and composer Charles Mingus, born in Nogales, Arizona (1922). He played with Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and toured Europe with his own orchestra. His autobiography is Beneath the Underdog, published in 1971.

It's the birthday of novelist Vladimir Nabokov, born in St. Petersburg, Russia (1899), who learned to speak and read English before he read Russian. Following the Bolshevik revolution, after the family settled in Berlin, his father was killed while shielding another man at a public meeting. Nabokov went from obscurity to great international fame when Lolita (1958) was published when he was 59 years old.

It is the birthday of novelist James Norman Hall, born in Colfax, Iowa (1887). He joined the British volunteer army as a machine gunner in France during World War One, and later, the American Air Service. He was shot down behind enemy lines and taken as a P.O.W. for the last six months of the war. When it was all over, he and his friend Charles Nordhoff went to Tahiti together and collaborated on several novels. Their best-known work was Mutiny on the Bounty (1932).

It is the birthday of Norwegian-American novelist Ole Edvart Rölvaag, born in a fishing village on Donna Island, Helgeland, Norway (1876). He was a very good fisherman, but he immigrated to South Dakota. He learned English, enrolled in St. Olaf College in Minnesota, and later became a professor there. He wrote about Norwegian settlers on the Dakota prairies in his huge novel, Giants in the Earth (1927).

It's the birthday of Immanuel Kant, born in Konigsberg, East Prussia (1724), to Lutheran parents. He's the author of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781), in which he gave the definition of the categorical imperative—morality dictated by actions based on rightness: "Act as if the maxim of your action were to become, through your will, a general natural law."

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