Apr. 22, 2011


by Louise Gluck

This is how you live when you have a cold heart.
As I do: in shadows, trailing over cool rock,
under the great maple trees.

The sun hardly touches me.
Sometimes I see it in early spring, rising very far away.
Then leaves grow over it, completely hiding it. I feel it
glinting through the leaves, erratic,
like someone hitting the side of a glass with a metal spoon.

Living things don't all require
light in the same degree. Some of us
make our own light: a silver leaf
like a path no one can use, a shallow
lake of silver in the darkness under the great maples.

But you know this already.
You and the others who think
you live for truth and, by extension, love
all that is cold.

"Lamium" by Louise Glück, from The Wild Iris. © Ecco Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Earth Day. It was first observed in 1970, but its roots go back to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson's (books by this author) landmark book exposing the effects of pesticides and other chemical pollution on the environment. Troubled by the lack of attention pollution was receiving on the national stage, Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson began going on speaking tours, trying to educate people and politicians about environmental issues. And while the public was concerned, the politicians didn't pay much attention.

During the late 1960s, Senator Nelson had the idea to harness the energy and methods of the student protests against the Vietnam War to organize a grassroots conservation movement. At a press conference in 1969, he announced plans for a nationwide demonstration, to take place the following spring. It was a gamble that paid off, and the public's response was enthusiastic. Gladwin Hill wrote in The New York Times: "Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation's campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam." Twenty million people nationwide participated in the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, and the government finally took notice, forming the Environmental Protection Agency and passing the Clean Air, the Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts.

In 1990, on the 20th anniversary, organizer Denis Hayes took Earth Day to the international arena, and coordinated events in 141 countries worldwide, boosting the awareness and practice of recycling. The year 2000 marked the first time the event was coordinated on the Internet, and the message was the need for clean energy to counteract climate change.

According to the Earth Day Network, Earth Day is celebrated by a billion people, making it the world's largest secular holiday.

Today is the birthday of poet Louise Glück (books by this author), born in New York City in 1943. She grew up on Long Island, and her father, a Hungarian immigrant, helped invent the X-Acto knife. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, and her first book of poems, called Firstborn, was published in 1968. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Triumph of Achilles (1985), the Pulitzer Prize for her collection The Wild Iris (1992), and was named U.S. poet laureate in 2003.

She tends to write poems that operate, as she puts it, "on a vertical axis of transcendence and grief." She has a word of wisdom for young poets: It never gets easier to write. In the Yale Daily News, she said, "The fantasy exists that once certain hurdles have been gotten through, this art turns much simpler, that inspiration never falters, and public opinion is always affirmative, and there's no struggle, there's no torment, there's no sense that the thing you've embarked on is a catastrophe."

Today is the birthday of legendary jazz bassist, bandleader, and composer Charles Mingus, sometimes known as "The Angry Man of Jazz," born in Nogales, Arizona, in 1922. Raised in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, his earliest musical influences were the gospel choirs he heard in church, and Duke Ellington on the radio. He was classically trained on the double bass, but found his home in jazz, and in the 1940s toured with Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton.

In the early 1950s, he settled in New York and worked with Billy Taylor, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Art Tatum, and Bud Powell. He also performed with Charlie Parker, who radically transformed Mingus's perceptions of jazz. He began to focus more heavily on composition in the middle of the decade, and borrowed elements from bebop, rhythm and blues, classical, and gospel music to create a style that strongly resisted a label. In his 40-year career, he recorded more than 60 albums, including Wonderland (1959) and Tijuana Moods (1962).

He was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in the mid-1970s, and though the disease affected his ability to play the bass, he still composed by humming into a tape recorder. He died in 1979, and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges River. After his death, an archivist discovered a complex and remarkably difficult composition, numbering more than 4,000 measures, called "Epitaph." A portion of the jazz symphony had been performed by Mingus and a 31-piece band in 1962, but the musicians weren't up to such a challenging composition, and Mingus put the full two-and-a-half-hour score in the closet, never to revisit it in his lifetime. The entire 500-page score was organized and assembled, and in 1989 it premiered at Alice Tully Hall in New York City, 10 years after Mingus's death.

He wrote: "Let my children have music! Let them hear live music. Not noise. My children! You do what you want with your own!"

It's the birthday of Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (books by this author), born in Königsberg, Prussia, in 1724. His father was a saddle maker. He studied theology, physics, mathematics, and philosophy at university, and worked for a time as a private tutor; he made very little money, but it gave him plenty of time for his own work. He lectured at the University of Königsberg for 15 years, until he was eventually given a tenured position as professor of logic and metaphysics in 1770. Though he enjoyed hearing travel stories, he never ventured more than 50 miles from his hometown, believing that travel was not necessary to solve the problems of philosophy.

In his most influential work, The Critique of Pure Reason (1781), he argued against Empiricism, which held that the mind was a blank slate to be filled with observations of the physical world, and Rationalism, which held that it was possible to experience the world objectively without the interference of the mind; instead, he synthesized the two schools of thought, added that the conscious mind must process and organize our perceptions, and made a distinction between the natural world as we observe it, and the natural world as it really is. He viewed morality as something that arises from human reason, and maintained that an action's morality is determined not by the outcome of the action, but by the motive behind it. He is also famous for his single moral obligation, the "Categorical Imperative": namely, that we should judge our actions by whether or not we would want everyone else to act the same way.

He wrote, "Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe ... the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."

And it's the birthday of the man who once wrote, "Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea," novelist and dramatist Henry Fielding (books by this author), born to the gentry in Somerset, England, in 1707. He began his career writing for the stage, but often found himself in hot water because his plays were invariably political satires, which the government didn't take kindly to. In 1737, probably in response to Fielding's plays, Parliament passed the Theatrical Licensing Act, which required plays to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain; Fielding, knowing that none of his plays were likely to gain approval, retired from the stage and became a novelist.

He's best known for The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), which recounts the adventures of a lusty but good-hearted young man who falls in love with his neighbor's daughter. On its surface a comic romance, Tom Jones also contains a fair measure of social commentary on the English class system.

Fielding was also appointed Chief Magistrate of London in 1750, and with his younger half-brother, John, he founded the Bow Street Runners, London's first professional police force.

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




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