Jul. 21, 2008

The Layers

by Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

"The Layers" by Stanley Kunitz from The Collected Poems. © W.W. Norton, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Tess Gallagher, (books by this author) born in Port Angeles, Washington (1943). She's the author of many collections of poetry, including Dear Ghosts, (2008).

It's the birthday of novelist John Gardner, (books by this author) born in Batavia, New York (1933). He's best known for his novel Grendel (1971), which is a retelling of Beowulf from the point of view of the monster.

It's the birthday of news service pioneer Paul Reuter—born Israel Beer Josaphat, the son of a rabbi—in Kassel, Germany (1816). After finishing school, he worked at a bank, where he came into contact with a renowned physicist who worked to apply math and science theory to the practical uses of electricity. He also experimented with the telegraph, and young Josaphat was greatly enthused by the prospects of the new technology.

When Josaphat was 29, he moved to England and converted to Christianity. He changed his name to Paul Julius Reuter, and one week after his baptism in London, he got married at the same Lutheran church where he was baptized. He moved back to Germany, where he worked at a publishing company. He published controversial political pamphlets, which caught the undesirable attention of German government leaders, and Reuter had to flee to Paris.

He earned a living as a translator for a news service agency. Then he moved back to Germany and started a financial news agency that relied on carrier pigeons. At the time, there was a short gap in the telegraphic lines between Berlin and Paris. In order to deliver stock prices and other economic news, pigeons were used between Aachen (the end of the German telegraph lines) and Brussels, Belgium, where the lines picked up and ran to Paris. It was four times as fast to send the messages by pigeon than by the post train. When this missing telegraph link was completed a few years later, his pigeon carrier service—which had a fleet of more than 200 birds—went out of business.

He went back to London and set up an office close to the London Stock Exchange. From here, he used the telegraph to transmit financial news, mostly stock market quotes, to and from Paris. For several years, he tried to persuade newspapers that they could greatly benefit from his services. In 1858, The London Times and others subscribed, and Reuters' news agency became an integral part of European media.

Reuters was the first in Europe to report the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, which they found out about less than two weeks after it occurred. An American agent of Reuters hired a tugboat to catch up to the mail boat that had already left the U.S. and was heading across the Atlantic, and then he tossed onto the ship a canister with the news. When the ship was off the coast of Ireland 12 days after it left America, Paul Reuter came out to meet it. He telegraphed news of the Lincoln's assassination to London. The agency was more than a week ahead of its European competitors in reporting the news.

In an 1883 memo, he wrote about what type of news should be reported over the wires: "fires, explosions, floods, inundations, railway accidents, destructive storms, earthquakes, shipwrecks attended with loss of life, accidents to war vessels and to mail steamers, street riots of a grave character, disturbances arising from strikes, duels between and suicides of persons of note, social or political, and murders of a sensational or atrocious character." He further instructed "that the bare facts be first telegraphed with the utmost promptitude, and as soon as possible afterwards a descriptive account, proportionate to the gravity of the incident." His instructions in this memo formed a sort of industry standard for future news media.

It's the birthday of Ernest Hemingway, (books by this author) born in Oak Park, Illinois (1899). His first important book was the collection of short stories In Our Time (1925), and he followed that with The Sun Also Rises (1926) and the book that most critics consider to be his greatest novel, A Farewell to Arms (1929).

Hemingway said, "All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

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




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