Jun. 17, 2006


by Ronald Wallace

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Poem: "Blessings" by Ronald Wallace from Long for This World: New and Selected Poems. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.


Some days I find myself
putting my foot in
the same stream twice;
leading a horse to water
and making him drink.
I have a clue.
I can see the forest
for the trees.

All around me people
are making silk purses
out of sows' ears,
getting blood from turnips,
building Rome in a day.
There's a business
like show business.
There's something new
under the sun.

Some days misery
no longer loves company;
it puts itself out of its.
There's rest for the weary.
There's turning back.
There are guarantees.
I can be serious.
I can mean that.
You can quite
put your finger on it.

Some days I know
I am long for this world.
I can go home again.
And when I go
I can
take it with me

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Igor Stravinsky, born in Oranienbaum, a suburb of St. Petersburg, Russia (1882). His first major success as a composer was a ballet based on a Russian folk tale called "The Firebird" (1909). It was wildly popular, and he traveled all over Europe to conduct it. Then, one night, he got an idea for a ballet about a pagan ritual in which a virgin would be sacrificed to the gods of spring by dancing herself to death. Stravinsky composed the piece on a piano in a rented cottage, and a boy working outside his window kept shouting up at him that the chords were all wrong. When Stravinsky played part of the piece for director of the theater where it would be performed, the director asked, "How much longer will it go on like that?" Stravinsky replied, "To the end, my dear." He titled the piece "The Rite of Spring."

It had its opening night in 1913 in Paris. The audience sat quietly through the first several minutes of the piece, but when the music suddenly turned harsh and dissonant, people in the audience began to shout at the stage. Fights broke out between the audience members. People who were enjoying the music attacked those who were booing. People spat in each other's faces. Men exchanged cards in order to fight duels the next day. The police were called. Stravinsky was so upset by the response that he left his seat in disgust. But the performance kept on, despite the disturbance. The composition lasted only thirty-three minutes, but it made Stravinsky was one of the most famous composers in the world.

Stravinsky went on to write many more pieces of music. He never waited for inspiration to compose. He said he kept banker's hours at his worktable. After his early success, he began to compose colder, more intellectual music, though he also once wrote a polka for a dancing elephant in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Igor Stravinsky said, "My music is best understood by children and animals."

It's the birthday of religious leader John Wesley, born in Lincolnshire, England (1703). He was the founder of the Methodist movement within the Anglican Church, which spread rapidly in the United States. The Methodist Church became the church of the colonists on the frontier, as well as the church of African Americans, both slave and free.

By 1850, the United Methodist Church held more members than any other Christian denomination in the United States. It was thought of as the most mainstream of all denominations. A convert needed only to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and everyone's personal savior. Methodists believed that all other questions about Christianity were up for discussion.

Methodists have established more colleges, hospitals, child-care facilities, and retirement homes than any other denomination. A 19th-century Methodist preacher named William Booth noticed that his lower-class converts were often turned away from respectable churches, so he founded the Salvation Army to reach the poor and needy. Methodists also started Goodwill Industries in 1902, with stores across the country that employ people with disabilities to repair furniture and mend old clothes to be sold at a discount.

It's the birthday of poet Ron Padgett, (books by this author) born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1942). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including Great Balls of Fire (1969), Tulsa Kid (1979), and You Never Know (2002).

It's the birthday of novelist and journalist John Hersey, (books by this author) born in Tianjin, China (1914). He wrote the book Hiroshima, published in a single issue of The New Yorker in 1946.

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