Mar. 20, 2014

Spring Comes to Murray Hill

by Ogden Nash

I sit in an office at 244 Madison Avenue
And say to myself You have a responsible job, havenue?
Why then do you fritter away your time on this doggerel?
If you have a sore throat you can cure it by using a good goggerel,
If you have a sore foot you can get it fixed by a chiropodist,
And you can get your original sin removed by St. John the Bopodist,
Why then should this flocculent lassitude be incurable?
Kansas City, Kansas, proves that even Kansas City needn't always
       be Missourible.
Up up my soul! This inaction is abominable.
The pilgrims settled Massachusetts in 1620 when they landed on a
       stone hummock.
Maybe if they were here now they would settle my stomach.
Oh, if I only had the wings of a bird
Instead of being confined on Madison Avenue I could soar in a
       jiffy to Second or Third.

"Spring Comes to Murray Hill" by Ogden Nash from The Best of Ogden Nash. © Ivan R. Dee, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the Roman poet Ovid (books by this author) born Publius Ovidius Naso in what is now Sulmo, Italy (43 B.C.). He became a famous, beloved poet in Rome, privy to the inner circles of the court. He published erotic poems, including his Ars Amatoria (2 A.D.), which instructed people on the arts of seduction and lovemaking. And he wrote Metamorphoses (8 A.D.), for which he is best remembered today. It traces Greek and Roman mythology through the lens of humans' metamorphoses into other objects — plants, stones, stars, and animals.

But then suddenly, in 8 A.D., he was exiled, and even today nobody knows why. In his writings, he talks about Emperor Augustus' anger toward him, and he alludes to having seen something he shouldn't have seen, but nothing more specific. Whatever the reason, Ovid was sent to Tomi, in what is now Romania, and he was isolated and lonely, longing for his beloved Rome. But even after Augustus died, the next emperor, Tiberius, did not allow Ovid back, and he died in Tomi after about 10 years in exile.

It's the birthday of the playwright Henrik Ibsen (books by this author), born in Skien, Norway (1828). One of his best-known plays is A Doll's House (1879), the story of a woman named Nora who is stuck in an unsatisfying marriage. The play ends with Nora slamming the door and walking out on her husband. Ibsen was so well known, and his ending was so shocking to 19th-centry viewers, that it was referred to as "the door slam heard around the world."

But he almost didn't make it as a writer. He had a love-hate relationship with his home country — as he said in a letter to the playwright Olaf Skavlan: "Men with such slave-souls as ours cannot even make use of the liberties they already possess. Norway is a free country, peopled by unfree men and women."

Ibsen left Norway in 1864 for a life of self-imposed exile. But life abroad was still hard. He and his wife were living in poverty. Ibsen wrote constantly, but his plays weren't getting noticed, and he couldn't support his family. He had appealed to the king for a pension, but his request was denied. It got to the point where he couldn't even afford postage stamps to put on his business letters. He was depressed and exhausted.

In the winter of 1865, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he became seriously ill with a high fever. Too poor to afford decent medical treatment, he almost died. The next spring, he was waiting for his play Brand (1866) to appear in Norway, a drama about a priest grappling with issues of God and free will. He expected the worst, and just before its publication he sent a letter to his friend Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, also a playwright. He wrote: "My book will appear in a day or two, I expect. About my present position — waiting, worn out with anxiety and suspense — looking forward to the appearance of the book and to the possibility of its producing strife and attacks of all sorts — unable in such circumstances to begin something new, which, nevertheless, is already fully developed within me — about all this I will say no more. Dear Bjørnson, it seems to me as if I were separated from both God and men by a great, an infinite void. [...] There is nothing so enervating and exhausting as this hopeless waiting. I dare say this is only a transition period. I will and shall have a victory some day. If the powers that be have shown me so little favor as to place me in this world and make me what I am, the result must be accordingly. [...] Is it not strange — up there in the north the day is dawning, the song-birds are twittering, there are gleams of light; levers, powerful, and flower-garlanded, such as are offered to no other people, are offered to ours with which to raise themselves; but they do not rise. I have a terrible foreboding that our life as a nation will not be eternal, but definitely terminable. When I read the news from home, when I gaze upon all that respectable, estimable narrow-mindedness and worldliness, it is with the feeling of an insane man staring at one single, hopelessly dark spot. [...] You are my one and only trusted friend; you do not know what it means to have only one."

He sent off the letter with a postscript apologizing that he could not afford to prepay the postage. Less than two weeks later, Brand was published and got great reviews. Finally, Ibsen got the literary victory he was dreaming of, and King Carl of Sweden and Norway granted Ibsen his request for a "poet's pension." He went on to write many plays, including Peer Gynt (1887), A Doll's House, An Enemy of the People (1882), and Hedda Gabler (1890).

The founding meeting of the Republican Party took place on this date in 1854, in a small schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin. Former members of the Whig Party gathered to voice their opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854, which repealed the terms of the Missouri Compromise, allowing settlers to decide for themselves if their respective territories would be a free state or a slave state.

It was on this day in 1852 that Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin was published (books by this author). She lived with her husband in Cincinnati, just across the Ohio River from Kentucky, a slave state. She was upset by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which forced both authorities and private individuals in the Northern free states to cooperate with the slave states to track down and return slaves. So she decided to write a book about slavery. She couldn't figure out a plot, until one day, while she was in church, she had a vision of an old slave. He became Uncle Tom, and she started writing. In 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin was published, selling 10,000 copies in its first week, and about 2 million copies by 1857.

It was on this date in 1916 that Albert Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity (books by this author). He began working on this theory shortly after he published his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905, which is centered on the famous equation E=mc2 (energy equals mass times the speed of light squared) and explains that both time and motion are relative to the observer.

Einstein said: "When you are courting a nice girl, an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder, a second seems like an hour. That's relativity."

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




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