Mar. 21, 2010

Endymion (extract)

by John Keats

Book I

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases, it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits.

"From Endymion" by John Keats. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet Nizar Qabbani, (books by this author) born in Damascus, Syria (1923). His mother, who was illiterate, sold her jewelry to raise money to publish his first anthology, Childhood of a Bosom (1948), and he went on to become the most popular Arab poet and to publish more than 20 books of poetry. Much of his poetry was influenced by the tragic deaths of two women he loved. When he was 15, his older sister committed suicide rather than be forced into marriage with a man she did not love, and he turned his attention to the situation of Arab women. He wrote romantic, sensual poems and poetry demonstrating the need for sexual equality and women's rights. Many years later, in 1981, his second wife, an Iraqi woman, died during the Lebanese Civil War when the Iraqi Embassy was bombed. Qabbani was grief-stricken and frustrated with the political and cultural climate of the Arab world, and he lived in Europe for the rest of his life.

He wrote:
I knew when I said
I love you
that I was inventing a new alphabet
for a city where no one could read
that I was saying my poems
in an empty theater
and pouring my wine
for those who could not
taste it.

It was on this day in 1965 that thousands of marchers, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., (books by this author) left Selma, Alabama, headed to Montgomery, to protest the disenfranchisement of African-American voters. They had attempted the march twice before, earlier in the month, but the first time they had been badly beaten by state troopers and deputies, and the second time they were ordered to turn back. This time, under court order, they were allowed to proceed, and by the time they reached the state capitol in Montgomery, there were 25,000 marchers, many answering King's call for people across the country to come and join. One of the people marching at the front of the line, arm in arm with Dr. King, was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, King's friend and colleague. Heschel said: "For many of us, the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying."

It's the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, born 325 years ago in Eisenach, Germany (1685). He came from a musical family, and was talented enough to get a scholarship to study music. And as a teenager, he was an accomplished organist and held a series of posts at various churches. But he wasn't the easiest organ player to have on staff. He criticized the choir, he took prolonged absences from his job, and once he got in a fight with a bassoonist, in which Bach called the bassoonist something that has been translated as "nanny-goat bassoonist" or "bassoonist breaking wind after eating a green onion." He took a leave of absence from a job in the town of Arnstadt — he asked for a month and stayed for three more — to visit another part of Germany and see the composer and organist Dietrich Buxtehude. Buxtehude was old by the time Bach visited him, and they hit it off, and Bach could have taken over his position. But by practice, he would have had to marry Buxtehude's daughter, and apparently this idea was not appealing because he went back to Arnstadt. His employers were relieved to have him back because he was so talented, but they weren't too happy that he was three months late, nor with the musical innovations he had picked up, inspired by Buxtehude. The Church Council held a meeting and informed him: "Complaints have been made to the Consistorium that you now accompany the hymns with surprising variations and irrelevant ornaments which obliterate the melody and confuse the congregation. If you desire to introduce a theme against the melody, you must go on with it and not immediately fly off to another." Then he was reprimanded for playing the organ for "a strange damsel." Not much later, he left Arnstadt, married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach, and went on to a distinguished career as a composer, organist, and champion of German music.

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




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