Jul. 4, 2012


by James Fenton

Stay near to me and I'll stay near to you —
As near as you are dear to me will do,
    Near as the rainbow to the rain,
    The west wind to the windowpane,
As fire to the hearth, as dawn to dew.

Stay true to me and I'll stay true to you —
As true as you are new to me will do,
    New as the rainbow in the spray,
    Utterly new in every way,
New in the way that what you say is true.

Stay near to me, stay true to me. I'll stay
As near, as true to you as heart could pray.
    Heart never hoped that one might be
    Half of the things you are to me —
The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day

"Hinterhof" by James Fenton, from Yellow Tulips: Poems 1986-2011. © Faber & Faber, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Independence Day. On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England. The document was approved and signed on July 2, and was formally adopted on July 4. John Adams always felt that the Second of July was America's true birthday, and he refused to appear at Fourth of July celebrations for the rest of his life in protest.

Today is the birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne (books by this author), born Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). He married Sophia Peabody in 1842, and soon after their wedding, Hawthorne wrote to his sister, "We are as happy as people can be, without making themselves ridiculous, and might be even happier; but, as a matter of taste, we choose to stop short at this point."

When he lost his job at the Salem Custom House, Sophia surprised him with money she'd put away out of her household allowance just so he could write a book. And he did: The Scarlet Letter (1850), about Hester Prynne, a young Puritan woman who bears a child out of wedlock and must wear a red letter "A" for adultery as her punishment.

Today is the day, in 1845, that Henry David Thoreau moved to a cabin on Walden Pond (books by this author). Ralph Waldo Emerson owned some land near Concord, Massachusetts, and let Thoreau build a cabin there. He stayed for two years, two months, and two days, all the while keeping a journal. He published it as a book, which he called Walden; or Life in the Woods, in 1854. In it, he wrote, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." But he wasn't exactly living apart from civilization, nor practicing pure self-reliance. Concord was only a mile and a half away, and he often walked into town. He worked part time as a surveyor, and his mother usually sent him back to the cabin with some home cooking.

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was first published on this date in 1855 (books by this author). The first edition consisted of 12 poems and was published anonymously. Whitman helped set the type himself. He kept adding to the collection and, eight editions and 36 years later, the final "death-bed edition" contained almost 400 poems. The first edition received several glowing — and anonymous — reviews in New York newspapers. Most of them were written by Whitman himself. One such review read, "An American bard at last!" But there were legitimate reviews too; one by popular columnist Fanny Fern called the collection daring and fresh. Emerson felt it was "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed." But not everyone loved it; many called it filthy, disgusting, or repulsive, and John Greenleaf Whittier threw his copy into the fire.

It was on this date in 1931, at the Kensington Registry Office in London, that James Joyce and Nora Barnacle were wed, after living together for 26 years (books by this author). They had had their first date in 1904, and had only been dating a few months when Joyce decided that he wanted to leave Ireland to live in Europe. He couldn't face going without her, so even though he had only tenuous prospects, he plucked up the courage to ask her to come along. To his amazement, she agreed. The next night, he wrote to her, "The fact that you can choose to stand beside me in this way in my hazardous life fills me with great pride and joy." They lived all over Europe, had two children, and were usually broke — until Joyce published Ulysses in 1922. It was a financial success, and Joyce wanted to make sure that Nora and their children could inherit the royalties, so they finally tied the knot.

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




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