Jun. 25, 2006

Green Canoe

by Jeffrey Harrison

SUNDAY, 25 JUNE, 2006
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Poem: "Green Canoe" by Jeffrey Harrison from Feeding the Fire. © Sarabande Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Green Canoe

I don't often get the chance any longer
to go out alone in the green canoe
and, lying in the bottom of the boat,
just drift where the breeze takes me,
down to the other end of the lake
or into some cove without my knowing
because I can't see anything over
the gunwales but sky as I lie there,
feeling the ribs of the boat as my own,
this floating pod with a body inside it...

also a mind, that drifts among clouds
and the sounds that carry over water—
a flutter of birdsong, a screen door
slamming shut-as well as the usual stuff
that clutters it, but slowed down, opened up,
like the fluff of milkweed tugged
from its husk and floating over the lake,
to be mistaken for mayflies at dusk
by feeding trout, or be carried away
to a place where the seeds might sprout.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1903, Marie Curie announced her discovery of radium, for which she won her first of two Nobel Prizes. She was still a doctoral student. That evening, at a party in her honor, the guests went out to the garden and her husband, Pierre, pulled a little tube out of his pocket. Suddenly the tube started to glow, lighting up the darkness. But the guests could see that Pierre's fingers were scarred and that he was finding it hard to hold the tube. He was holding radium.

It was on this day in 1942 that Dwight D. Eisenhower became the commander of the U.S. troops in Europe. He had been a military man for more than twenty years, but he'd never seen combat. All he'd ever done was train soldiers and write a guidebook of World War I battlefields in France.

Eisenhower (books by this author) captured the attention of his commanders with his performance supervising military games. He also impressed senior military officers by how photogenic he was. They knew they needed a commander who would be a good public face for the American troops.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949), George Orwell, (books by this author) born Eric Blair in a small village in Bengal, India (1903). He went to an English boarding school and then worked as a policeman in Burma before becoming a journalist.

He wrote about the Spanish Civil War, and fought on the side of the loyalists, fighting against Franco. But he also witnessed the Stalinist faction of the communist party that began to suppress the other leftist groups, arresting them and censoring newspapers and organizing armed militias. Orwell himself had to go into hiding in order to avoid arrest or even execution by the Stalinists.

He eventually had to flee the country. The experience of the war changed his life. He came to believe that it wasn't Fascism or Communism that was evil, but simply idealism taken to any extreme. At a time when most intellectuals still supported Communism in Russia, Orwell became one of the first leftist writers to speak out against Stalin. He began to work on a political allegory about the Communist revolution that became Animal Farm, about a group of farm animals that overthrow their farmer, Mr. Jones. Because England and Russia were still allies at the end of World War II, he had trouble publishing the book, but when Animal Farm finally came out after the war, it made Orwell famous.

Orwell spent the last years of his life writing 1984, about a future in which England has become a totalitarian state run by an anonymous presence known only as Big Brother. He died a few months after it was first published, but it has since been translated into sixty-two languages and has sold more than ten million copies.

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