Jan. 16, 2010

Who could need more proof than honey—

How the bees with such skill and purpose
enter flower after flower
sing their way home
to create and cap the new honey
just to get through the flowerless winter.

And how the bear with intention and cunning
raids the hive
shovels pawful after pawful into his happy mouth
bats away indignant bees
stumbles off in a stupor of satiation and stickiness.

And how we humans can't resist its viscosity
its taste of clover and wind
its metaphorical power:
don't we yearn for a land of milk and honey?
don't we call our loved ones "honey?"

all because bees just do, over and over again, what they were made to do.

Oh, who could need more proof than honey
to know that our world
was meant to be


was meant to be

"Joy" by Julie Cadwallader Staub. Used with permission of the author.

It's the birthday of another poet, Anthony Hecht, (books by this author) born in New York City (1923), who won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry.

It's the birthday of the novelist William Kennedy, (books by this author) born in Albany, New York (1928). Kennedy's novel Ironweed won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer; in 1987 it was made into a film starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.

On this day in 1992, a peace treaty was signed that ended El Salvador's 12-year-long bloody civil war, in which at least 75,000 people died. It was a peace agreement between the leftist rebels of the FLMN and the Salvadorian government. The United Nations and the Catholic Church watched over the negotiation process. The accords were signed in Mexico City, and the cease-fire that took effect two weeks after the signing has never since been broken. Today is a national holiday in El Salvador.

It's the birthday of a writer who said: "The best emotions to write out of are anger and fear or dread. The least energizing emotion to write out of is admiration ... because the basic feeling that goes with admiration is a passive contemplative mood" — critic and theorist Susan Sontag, (books by this author) born in New York City (1933) and raised mostly in California. She was a major figure in the avant-garde movement and a woman known as "the Dark Lady of American Letters."

She went off to the University of Chicago at the age of 17, and she married one of her professors there 10 days after she first met him in a lecture. During their marriage they worked on a book about Freud. Sontag wrote many essays over the years, including "Notes on Camp," "The Pornographic Imagination," and "The Aesthetics of Silence."

Besides the essays for which she was most famous, she wrote stage plays; screenplays; a memoir about her struggle with breast cancer (Illness as Metaphor, 1978); an experimental story called The Way We Live Now (1991), which first appeared in The New Yorker magazine; and some novels, including The Volcano Lover (1992) and In America (1999), which won the National Book Award. There's a new biography about her by Phillip Lopate, Notes on Sontag (2009), published just last year.

On this day in 1605, Book One of Cervantes' (books by this author) Don Quixote was published. It's considered to be the first modern novel. It's about a middle-aged landowner from a village in La Mancha who stays awake at night reading books about chivalry, becomes obsessed with tales, forgets to eat and sleep, insanely believes the tales to be true, and sets off on a skinny nag in a heroic quest to resurrect old-fashioned chivalry and heroism in the modern world.

There's a play by Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand (books by this author) called The Night of January 16th. It's a courtroom drama set in New York City about a Swedish banker who has extorted millions out of shareholders to inflate the gold market. The stock market had then crashed in 1929, and the swindler was going bankrupt even though he'd gotten a big bailout from his banker father-in-law. On the night of January 16th, he falls to his death from a penthouse suite where he's been with his mistress. The big question is whether it was murder or suicide. His mistress is on trial for murder. In Ayn Rand's play, 12 members of the audience are chosen to be the jury, so the play actually has different endings when it's staged. It ran on Broadway during the mid-1930s, during the Great Depression.

On this day 429 years ago, the English Parliament outlawed Roman Catholicism. This 1581 statute stated that it was an "act to retain the Queen's Majesty's subjects in their obedience" and made it high treason to "reconcile anyone or to be reconciled to 'the Romish religion.'" It forbade people to go to Mass; persons breaking the law were subject to fines and as well as a year in jail. An English man or woman could avoid these troubles by renouncing the Pope and joining the Anglican Church. Most of the English martyrs in the Catholic Church come from the time of Elizabeth's reign.

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