Mar. 20, 2006

Trees (excerpt)

by W. S. Merwin

MONDAY, 20 MARCH, 2006
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Poem: "Trees" by W. S. Merwin from The Compass Flower. © Macmillian Publishing Company. Reprinted with permission.


I am looking at trees
they may be one of the things I will miss
most from the earth
though many of the ones I have seen
already I cannot remember
and though I seldom embrace the ones I see
and have never been able to speak
with one
I listen to them tenderly
their names have never touched them
they have stood round my sleep
and when it was forbidden to climb them
they have carried me in their branches

Literary and Historical Notes:

Today is the first day of spring, the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. On this day the North and South Poles are equally distant from the sun, so we will have almost exactly the same amount of daytime as nighttime.

The novelist Margaret Atwood said, "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."

Emily Dickinson said, "A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King."

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 first successful candidate for president of the United States was Abraham Lincoln, who was elected in 1860.

It's the birthday of psychologist BF (Burrhus Frederic) Skinner, born in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania (1904). He was the leading exponent of the school of psychology known as behaviorism, which explains the behavior of humans and animals in terms of their psychological responses to external stimuli. He coined the term operant conditioning to describe the phenomenon of learning as a result of an organism responding to its environment. He did extensive research with animals, notably rats and pigeons, and invented the famous Skinner box in which a rat learns to press a lever in order to obtain food.

It's the birthday of playwright Henrik Ibsen, born in Skien, Norway (1828). He is generally considered to be the father of modern drama. His father was a wealthy merchant in Norway's timber trade, but when Ibsen was eight years old his father went bankrupt, and the family had to move to a rundown farm outside of town. Their family friends stopped talking to them, Isben's father became abusive, and his mother fell into depression. When he was sixteen, Ibsen left home and never saw his family again.

He got a job as assistant stage manager for a new theater and then applied to the government for a stipend to travel abroad, and got it. He spent the next twenty-seven years living in Italy and Germany.

He found that by leaving his homeland he could finally see Norway clearly, and he began to work on creating a true Norwegian drama. At a time when most people were writing plays full of sword fights and murders, Ibsen started to write plays about relationships between ordinary people.

One of Isben's first realistic plays was A Doll's House (1879), about a woman named Nora who refuses to obey her husband and eventually leaves him, walking out of the house and slamming the door in the final scene. It changed the style of acting. At the time, most actors were praised for their ability to deliver long poetic speeches, but Ibsen emphasized small gestures, the inflection of certain words and pauses, and he inspired a new generation of actors to begin embodying the characters they played.

When he published his play Ghosts (1881), about a man with venereal disease, it was so scandalous that no one would produce it onstage for two years. A London newspaper called it, "An open drain; a loathsome sore unbandaged; a dirty act done publicly." But eventually, after writers like George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde began calling him the greatest living playwright, audiences began to accept his work as literature.

Henrik Ibsen said, "Writing has ... been to me like a bath from which I have risen feeling cleaner, healthier, and freer."

It's the birthday of the poet Ovid, born in the village of Sulmo, just east of Rome (43 B.C.). He made his name with a book of poems about seduction called The Amores (c. 16 B.C) and then a how-to manual about adultery called The Art of Love (c. 1 B.C.). After having written many light, popular works, Ovid began his masterpiece, The Metamorphoses (c. 8 A.D.), a collection of all the Greek and Roman myths that deal with transformation.

He said, "Let others praise ancient times; I am glad I was born in these."

It was on this day in 1852 that Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was published.

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




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