Apr. 3, 2008


by Howard Nemerov

These golden heads, these common suns
Only less multitudinous
Than grass itself that gluts
The market of the world with green,
They shine as lovely as they're mean,
Fine as the daughters of the poor
Who go proudly in spangles of brass;
Light-headed, then headless, stalked for a salad.
Inside a week they will be seen
Stricken and old, ghosts in the field
To be picked up at the lightest breath,
With brazen tops all shrunken in
And swollen green gone withered white.
You'll say it's nature's price for beauty
That goes cheap; that being light
Is justly what makes girls grow heavy;
And that the wind, bearing their death,
Whispers the second kingdom come.
—You'll say, the fool of piety,
By resignations hanging on
Until, still justified, you drop.
But surely the thing is sorrowful,
At evening, when the light goes out
Slowly, to see those ruined spinsters,
All down the field their ghostly hair,
Dry sinners waiting in the valley
For the last word and the next life
And the liberation from the lion's mouth.

"Dandelions" by Howard Nemerov, from Collected Poems. © Collected Poems University of Chicago, 1977. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1860, the Pony Express Company began mail service. The first run from Saint Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, took just over 10 days to complete. Its usefulness was short-lived however because the Western Union Telegraph line was finished in October of 1861, and the Pony Express became obsolete just 16 months after it began.

It was on this day in 1948 that President Harry Truman signed the European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan, into law. It allocated more than $5 billion in aid to help revitalize the economy of European countries after World War II. That amount eventually grew to more than $18 billion.

He announced the plan at Harvard's graduation ceremony on June 5, 1947, saying, "Our policy is not directed against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos." He then went on a countrywide tour, promoting the plan to ordinary Americans. It was a hard sell: Congressional opponents of the plan called it "Operation Rathole," and most Americans were tired of all the sacrificing they'd done during the war and not very eager about continuing to sacrifice for the benefit of Europeans.

The Marshall Plan might never have been enacted if a communist government hadn't taken control of Czechoslovakia in the winter of 1948. The Truman administration used that incident as evidence of the real danger to the rest of Europe. And so Congress passed the Marshall Plan that spring, signed on this day in 1948.

During the quarter century after the Marshall Plan was introduced, Europe experienced its highest economic growth ever. Western Europe's gross national product increased by 32 percent. It was one of the most generous and one of the most successful acts of American foreign policy. Winston Churchill later said, "[The Marshall Plan] was the most unsordid act in history."

It's the birthday of the San Francisco columnist Herb Caen, (books by this author) born in Sacramento, California (1916). He started publishing his column "It's News to Me" in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1938, the year after the Golden Gate Bridge opened. He was only 22 years old, and he continued writing 1,000 words a day, six days a week, for almost 60 years — becoming the longest-running columnist in American history.

He said, "Living in San Francisco [is] a gift from the gods."

It's the birthday of the writer Washington Irving, (books by this author) born in New York City (1783). He is known as the "first American man of letters" and is best known for the short stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" from The Sketch Book (1819).

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