Jun. 17, 2008

The Barefoot Boy

by John Greenleaf Whittier

    Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim's jaunty grace:
From my heart I give thee joy—
I was once a barefoot boy!

     O, for boyhood's painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor's rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,

     O, for boyhood's time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey bees;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!

     Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt's for work be shod,
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!

"The Barefoot Boy" by John Greenleaf Whittier. 1855. Public domain.

It's the birthday of novelist and journalist John Hersey, (books by this author) born in born in Tianjin, China (1914). He was the son of American missionaries and he learned Chinese before he learned English. His family moved back to the United States when he was ten. He graduated from Yale and then began working in Asia as a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. During World War II, he wrote for Life magazine and The New Yorker. After the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, he was one of the first Western reporters to arrive and document the aftermath. In his reporting, he decided to write about how individual persons were affected, and he focused his stories on the lives of six people in Hiroshima at the time of the explosion: a minister, a seamstress who had been widowed, two doctors, a minister, a Catholic priest, and a young factory worker.

The editor of The New Yorker decided to devote the last issue in August of 1946 to Hersey's articles. Later, the collected articles appeared in book form, Hiroshima, published in 1946.

He said, "What has kept the world safe from the bomb since 1945 has not been deterrence, in the sense of fear of specific weapons, so much as it's been memory. The memory of what happened at Hiroshima."

Hersey also wrote the novel A Bell for Adano (1945), about an Italian-American officer put in charge of a Sicilian town liberated by the Allies in World War II.

It's the birthday of graphic artist M. C. Escher, born in Leeuwarden, Netherlands (1898), the son of a civil engineer. He was a bad student in high school and failed his exams, but was able to enroll in the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts in Haarlem, slated to study architecture. After a week, he decided that he would rather be a graphic artist. He spent three years at the school and then moved to Italy.

He met his wife there and they settled in Rome for 11 years. Each year he would travel widely throughout Italy, sketching nature scenes that he would later incorporate into his graphic art. He also visited Spain, including Granada, where he saw the 14th-century Moorish castle the Alhambra. At the Alhambra he encountered and became fascinated by the Regular Division of the Plane, based on interlocking shapes or combinations of shapes known as tessellations. He made a series of Regular Division Drawings, eventually completing 137 such, and published several books featuring them. His designs are sometimes featured on neckties.

He said, "Are you really sure that a floor can't also be a ceiling?"

It's the birthday of poet Ron Padgett, (books by this author) born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1942). When he was growing up in Oklahoma, it was a dry state and his father made a living as a bootlegger - he would buy alcohol in nearby Missouri to sell to people in Oklahoma. His father was friends with many police officers, who knew that he was not a "bad guy," but was also widely known as a criminal. Padgett read voraciously as a child and began jotting down poems in spiral notebooks when he was 13. In high school he worked in a bookstore, where he read new and fresh writing in the literary magazines that the store stocked. He went to Columbia University, just like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, who had made a big impression on him, then he studied at the Sorbonne in France on a Fulbright Scholarship. In Paris, he encountered many poets and painters whom he identified with, and later published several translations of French poetry.

In the 1970s, he worked in the New York City Poets in the Schools project and also directed the St. Mark's Poetry Project. He's the author of Toujours l'amour (1976), Tulsa Kid (1979), Triangles in the Afternoon (1979), The Big Something (1990), Poems I Guess I Wrote (2001), and How to Be Perfect (2008).

In "Song" from Tulsa Kid, Padgett wrote:

Learning to write,
be a good person and get to heaven
are all the same thing
but trying to do them all at once,
is enough to drive you crazy

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




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