Nov. 2, 2008

To a Leaf Falling in Winter

by W. S. Merwin

At sundown when a day's words
have gathered at the feet of the trees
lining up in silence
to enter the long corridors
of the roots into which they
pass one by one thinking
that they remember the place
as they feel themselves climbing
away from their only sound
while they are being forgotten
by their bright circumstances
they rise through all of the rings
listening again
afterward as they
listened once and they come
to where the leaves used to live
during their lives but have gone now
and they too take the next step
beyond the reach of meaning

"To a Leaf Falling in Winter" by W.S. Merwin from Present Company. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the frontiersman Daniel Boone, born on this day in 1734 near Reading, Pennsylvania. When he was young, his family moved to North Carolina, where Daniel loved to hunt in the forest. He educated himself by taking books with him on his hunting trips. He went on long hunting and exploring expeditions, and he crossed the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

Even during his lifetime, Boone was a figure of legend. He was captured by Indians, and he lived with them as an adopted son before he escaped. That made a great story back East. Daniel Boone was a man of few words, so his biographers took free rein and invented long, eloquent speeches for him. They also embellished the facts — these biographies have Boone wrestling with bears or swinging away from Indians on vines. They made Boone the first American frontier hero.

In the epic poem Don Juan (1819–24), Lord Byron wrote about Daniel Boone:

Of the great names which in our faces stare,
The General Boon, back-woodsman of Kentucky,
Was happiest amongst mortals any where;
For killing nothing but a bear or buck, he
Enjoyed the lonely vigorous, harmless days
Of his old age in wilds of deepest maze.

Around the same time, James Fenimore Cooper wrote his Leatherstocking Tales, including The Last of the Mohicans (1826), and Cooper used Daniel Boone as a model for his frontier hero, Natty Bumppo.

It was on this day in 1960 that Penguin Books was found not guilty of obscenity in a landmark trial over the book Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel by D. H. Lawrence. It's the story of a young aristocrat, Lady Chatterley, whose husband is paralyzed and impotent, and she has an affair with her gamekeeper.

D. H. Lawrence published his novel privately in 1928, but it was instantly banned because of its obscene language and explicit sex scenes. In 1959, Britain passed a new version of the Obscene Publications Act, which made it possible for publishers to defend against charges of obscenity if they could prove that a book had "literary merit." The next year, 1960, was the 30th anniversary of Lawrence's death, and Penguin Books saw an opportunity to test the new law by publishing Lady Chatterley's Lover. They were brought to trial immediately.

The defense called a series of 35 prominent writers and literary critics, including E. M. Forster. The case lasted five days, and it only took the jury three hours to reach a "not guilty" verdict. When Penguin published 200,000 copies, they sold out on the first day, and most bookstores ran out of copies after 15 minutes. Penguin published a second edition the next year and added a dedication to the jury who made the novel's publication possible.

It's the birthday of Marie Antoinette, born in Vienna, Austria, in 1755, child number 15 out of 16 born to the Empress Maria Theresa and the Emperor Francis I. To preserve the alliance between Austria and France, Marie was married to the future king of France, Louis the 16th, when she was 14 years old.

Louis and Marie were very different. He loved hunting and eating, and he was introverted. She loved to go out, to dance and gamble. She was beautiful, with long blond hair and perfect posture, and she spent lots of money on fashionable clothes and jewelry, which made her a target for the French people, who were growing increasingly resentful of the monarchy.

The French Revolution began in 1789. Marie and Louis were stripped of power, put on trial, and both sentenced to death. Marie Antoinette was executed at the guillotine in October of 1793.

Marie Antoinette is one of the most famously misquoted people in history. It was actually an earlier princess, Maria Theresa of Spain, who is quoted as saying, "If there is no bread, let them eat cake."

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




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