Feb. 25, 2006

When I am gone, recall my hair

by Edith Wharton

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Poem: "When I am gone, recall my hair" by Edith Wharton from Edith Wharton: Selected Poems. © The Library of America. Reprinted with permission.

When I am gone, recall my hair

When I am gone, recall my hair,
Not for the light it used to hold,
But that your touch, enmeshed there,
Has turned it to a younger gold.

Recall my hands, that were not soft
Or white or fine beyond expressing,
Till they had slept so long and oft,
So warm and close, in your possessing.

Recall my eyes, that used to lie
Blind pools with summer's wreckage strewn.
You cleared the drift, but in their sky
You hung no image but your own.

Recall my mouth, that knew not how
A kiss is cradled and takes wing,
Yet fluttered like a nest-hung bough
When you had touched it like the Spring.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the "Father of Modern Pathology," Giovanni Battista Morgagni, born in Forli, Italy (1682). He's remembered today for his book On the Seats and Causes of Disease, published in 1761, in which he describes in great detail the results of 640 autopsies he performed on patients who died from diseases. It's considered one of the most important works in the history of medicine. Before Morgagni, it was still widely believed that diseases were caused by an imbalance in four human fluids called humors—phlegm, blood, gall and choler. Morgagni laid the foundation for modern pathology.

It's the birthday of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, born in Limoges, France (1841). He was born into a family of artisans. His father was a tailor and his mother a dressmaker. He showed an early talent for drawing, and so he was apprenticed to a porcelain painter when he was just thirteen years old. He might have spent the rest of his life decorating plates with bouquets of flowers, but he decided early on that he wanted to be a real painter.

He saved up his own money to take evening classes in drawing and anatomy. He didn't learn much from his teachers, but a group of his classmates introduced him to a new idea that art should try to be closer to life and free from past tradition. One of these classmates was Claude Monet and the idea they'd come up with would become known as Impressionism.

At the time, paintings were produced in studios and they were painstakingly sketched out before the painter even began to put any color on the canvas. But Renoir and his friends began to travel out into the countryside with their canvases. They were among the first professional painters in the world to paint directly from nature, painting straight onto the canvas.

The first exhibition of these Impressionist paintings came in 1874, and they created a stir in the art world, but many art critics thought they were ugly and amateurish. But they eventually caught on.

Renoir said, "In painting, as in the other arts, there's not a single process, no matter how insignificant, which can be reasonably made into a formula. You come to nature with your theories, and she knocks them all flat."

It's the birthday of novelist Karl May, born in Ernstthal, Germany (1842). He was in prison when he began to read about American pioneers and cowboys and Indians and got the idea for a series of novels about the adventures of a heroic German immigrant named Charley and his Apache Indian friend Winnetou. As soon as he published the books, they became hugely popular, especially among German adolescent boys. His novels became some of the most widely read books in Europe.

May's novels are still incredibly popular in Germany. Many of his novels have been made into movies and TV shows, and in northern Germany thousands of people still go to see an annual festival that puts on plays based on May's plots.

It's the birthday of novelist and critic Anthony Burgess, born John Anthony Burgess Wilson in Manchester, England (1917). He had written several novels, none of which was particularly successful, when, in 1959, he began to suffer from severe headaches. He went to see a doctor and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The doctor told him he only had one year to live.

Burgess wrote five novels in that following year, the year he believed to be his last. The diagnosis turned out to be incorrect. He's best known for his novel A Clockwork Orange (1962). It begins: "There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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