Apr. 22, 2014

I Happened To Be Standing

by Mary Oliver

The text of this poem is no longer available.

"I Happened To Be Standing" by Mary Oliver from A Thousand Mornings. © The Penguin Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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.

It's birthday of Vladimir Nabokov (books by this author), born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1899. His family fled St. Petersburg during the Bolshevik revolution, and in 1919 they settled in western Europe: first England, where Nabokov attended Cambridge, and then Berlin, where his father was shot and killed at a political rally in 1922.

Nabokov fled the Nazis in Berlin in 1936 with his wife, Véra, who was Jewish, and their son; they moved to Paris but left again in 1940 to escape the Nazi advance. They settled in the United States, where he wrote and taught at a series of colleges. In 1961, the success of his famously controversial novel Lolita (1953), and its subsequent film adaptation, enabled him to retire and write full time, and the Nabokovs moved to a hotel in Switzerland, where they lived until his death in 1977.

The first Oklahoma Land Rush began on this date in 1889.

In the early 1800s, white settlers began eyeing the lands of the Cherokee and other tribes for farming and mining. The U.S. government had a dusty tract of land to the west that was uninhabited and not much good for farming, so it began relocating the Native Americans to these western lands starting in 1817. The government promised the tribes that the new territory would be theirs "for as long as the stars shall shine and the rivers may flow." But over the next 60 years, farming techniques improved, and by the 1880s, people began pressuring Congress to open up this chunk of land — now known as Indian Territory — to white settlement as well. On March 3, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison announced the government would make nearly 2 million acres of land available to settlers. Each person could claim 160 acres free of charge, provided he or she was a United States citizen at least 21 years old, and paid the a $14 fee to file the claim. Congress didn't bother to make any provisions for civil governance, figuring the settlers would work that out among themselves.

There was a seven-week gap between the announcement and the actual opening of the territory. Hopeful settlers, called "boomers," scrambled to prepare, and began pitching their tents around the edges of Indian Territory. On April 22, they assembled at dawn, getting ready for the starting cannon, which sounded from nearby Fort Reno at noon. The stampede began: fifty to sixty thousand boomers, including several hundred women, sped onto the land. They came in wagons, on horseback, and even on foot. Trains carried some settlers into the territory, but the trains were required to travel at only 15 miles per hour — the speed of the average horse — to keep things fair.

As the would-be settlers streamed onto the land, they discovered that some people had gotten there first, staking claims and in some cases even laying out rough towns. One old man was discovered farming his plot with a team of oxen, and the crop of onions he'd planted was already four inches tall. Many of the men were on the land as "legal sooners," authorized to arrive before the opening due to their work as federal marshals or railroad workers. Even though they were forbidden from filing land claims, almost all of them disregarded the prohibition. Lawsuits filed against these "sooners" dragged on for years.

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