Jul. 9, 2006

Hornworm: Summer Reverie

by Stanley Kunitz

SUNDAY, 9 JULY, 2006
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Poem: "Hornworm: Summer Reverie" by Stanley Kunitz from The Collected Poems. © W.W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Hornworm: Summer Reverie

Here in caterpillar country
I learned how to survive
by pretending to be a dragon.
See me put on that look
of slow and fierce surprise
when I lift my bulbous head
and glare at an intruder.
Nobody seems to guess
how gentle I really am,
content most of the time
simply to disappear
by melting into the scenery.
Smooth and fatty and long,
with seven white stripes
painted on either side
and a sharp little horn for a tail,
I lie stretched out on a leaf,
pale green on my bed of green,
munching, munching.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the science writer Oliver Sacks, (books by this author) born in London (1933). He's known for writing about the experiences of people suffering from neurological disorders in books of essays such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) and Awakenings (1973). Oliver Sacks said, "Classical fables have archetypal figures-heroes, victims, martyrs, warriors. Neurological patients are all of these. ... They are travelers to unimaginable lands-lands of which otherwise we should have no idea or conception."

It's the birthday of best-selling author Dean Koontz, (books by this author) born in Everett, Pennsylvania (1945). He's the author of more than seventy supernatural and science fiction thrillers, many of which have been best-sellers. But he's never gone on a talk show or done a nationwide book tour, because he refuses to fly.

It's the birthday of the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, (books by this author) born in Chicago, Illinois (1932). In 2003, he published Rumsfeld's Rules: Wisdom for the Good Life, a list of guidelines for his colleagues that he'd gathered over the years. It includes advice such as, "It is easier to get into something than to get out of it."

It's the birthday of the "queen of the romance novel," Barbara Cartland, (books by this author) born in Edgbaston, Birmingham, England (1901). She dictated her novels to assistants, who would type furiously, forbidden to sneeze or cough. Reclining on a sofa, a hot water bottle at her feet and her dog dozing by her side, she could dictate 7,000 words in an afternoon. She is the author of more than seven hundred books. Starting in the mid-1970s, she averaged twenty-three a year, and she sold more than a billion copies in her lifetime.

Her books followed a simple, unvarying formula: chaste, beautiful heroine is pursued by rich, handsome, rakish man in an exotic locale, sometime in the nineteenth century; they fall in love, overcome obstacles, marry, and only then give free rein to their passions.

It's the birthday of the man who invented the technology of alternating electrical current, which led to all kinds of technologies, including radio. And that was Nikola Tesla, born in a small mountain village of Croatia (1856), the son of an Eastern Orthodox priest. He wanted to be an inventor from an early age, got a degree in engineering, and took a job at a telegraph office. Then one day, while out for a walk with a friend, he suddenly got an idea for a more efficient way to transmit electricity. At the time, Thomas Edison had begun transmitting electricity with direct current, which meant that he could only transmit the energy about a mile before it began to lose power. Tesla's invention of an alternating current would allow electricity to be transmitted hundreds or even thousands of miles.

The invention got him a job working for Westinghouse. He went on to propose the idea for transmitting signals wirelessly through the air. He was at work on this project, when the building that housed his laboratory burned to the ground, destroying all his equipment and papers. The result was that an Italian inventor got the credit for inventing radio, rather than Tesla.

He spent the later years of his life suffering from mental illness, living in New York City, where he spent most of his time feeding pigeons in Bryant Park, behind the main branch of the New York Public Library. People who knew him said that whenever there was a lightning storm, he stopped whatever he was doing and sat in front of the window to watch it.

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




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