Oct. 25, 2006

I Married You

by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "I Married You" by Linda Pastan, from Queen of a Rainy Country. © W.W. Norton & Company. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

I Married You

I married you
for all the wrong reasons,
charmed by your
dangerous family history,
by the innocent muscles, bulging
like hidden weapons
under your shirt,
by your naïve ties, the colors
of painted scraps of sunset.

I was charmed too
by your assumptions
about me: my serenity—
that mirror waiting to be cracked,
my flashy acrobatics with knives
in the kitchen
How wrong we both were
about each other,
and how happy we have been.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the artist Pablo Picasso, (books by this author) born in Málaga, Spain (1881). He had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and usually spent the afternoon conversing with friends. It was at night that he did most of his work, usually in the dark, except for two spotlights shining directly on his canvas. He didn't use a palette—he just had the cans of paint sitting on the floor, and he would dip the brushes right in and then wipe the excess off on newspapers. He stood up while he painted, often for three or four hours at a time. Then once in a while, he'd take an hour off to go sit at the other end of the room in a wicker armchair and stare at his painting, analyzing his work.

It was on this day in 1854 that a British light brigade attempted to charge the Russian troops during the Battle of Balaclava, but the order for the charge was misunderstood. The army commander wanted the troops to storm up the hill to take out the cannons at that position, but the cavalry commander thought they were supposed to storm down the hill into the valley. And so he led more than 600 men into the worst possible position. They were surrounded and roundly defeated. But though it was a failure, it wasn't even that great a disaster. Fewer than 200 of the almost 700 men died.

The defeat might have been forgotten, but a journalist named William Howard Russell witnessed the charge, and he wrote a dramatic story about it for the London Times, emphasizing the bravery of the soldiers thrown into a hopeless situation. He left out the fact that their hopeless situation was caused by an error.

The poet Alfred Tennyson read the article in his house on the Isle of Wight about three weeks later, and he immediately decided to write a poem, which became "The Charge of the Light Brigade," which begins, "Half a league, half a league, / Half a league onward, / All in the valley of Death / Rode the six hundred." It also contains the famous lines, "Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die."

Copies of the poem were rushed into print and distributed among the soldiers on the battlefield. And even though the Crimean War was unpopular at the time, the poem became a kind of national anthem about self-sacrifice and duty.

One of the only recordings we have of Tennyson's voice is a wax cylinder recording of him reading "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in 1890, two years before his death. His funeral, in 1892, was a huge state affair, and the aisles were full of veteran survivors of that famous charge.

It's the birthday of the poet John Berryman, (books by this author) born John Smith in Oklahoma (1914). He first became celebrated as a Shakespeare scholar. His lectures became famous. More than 200 people would show up for his talks. There were parties for him every week. Other professors would dismiss their students so they could go see Berryman speak.

He had published a few unnoticed collections of poetry when, one summer, he began an affair with a graduate student and fell helplessly in love with her. The first night they kissed, he wrote a sonnet about her, and he began writing sonnets obsessively, one after another, and he wrote more freely than he ever had before, expressing his thoughts and emotions in a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, full of jokes and slang and plays on words.

He didn't publish the sonnets until 20 years later, as Berryman's Sonnets (1967), but they were a breakthrough for him, and the first major poem he wrote after those sonnets was Homage to Mistress Bradstreet (1948), his first big success.

It's the birthday of the novelist Anne Tyler, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1941). She's the author of many novels, including Searching for Caleb (1974), The Accidental Tourist (1985), and Breathing Lessons (1988), novels about characters who find the modern world strange and alien. The Accidental Tourist is about a man named Macon Leary who makes a living writing travel guides for people who dislike traveling, and who withdraws almost completely from the world after the murder of his 12-year-old son, until he meets a dog trainer named Muriel Pritchett.

Anne Tyler gave a few interviews in her early career, but after that she decided she didn't want to be a public person. She never goes on book tours or speaks on talk shows, and if she answers any questions from journalists, she only does so in writing.

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




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