Sunday Feb. 22, 2015

0:00/ 0:00

What lips my lips have kissed...

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

“What lips my lips have kissed...” by Edna St. Vincent Millay from Selected Poems. © The Library of America, 2003. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

George Washington was born on this date in Westmoreland County, Virginia, 1732. Washington's early life was quiet; the estate he farmed and managed at Mt. Vernon took all his time. He said farming was "the most delectable of pursuits — honorable, amusing, and, with superior judgment, profitable."

On this date in 1632, Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. The two systems in question were the Ptolemaic and the Copernican theories of cosmology. Ptolemy, following the tradition of Aristotle, believed that the Earth was the center of the universe, and everything — Sun, Moon, planets, and stars — revolved around it. Copernicus, on the other hand, posited that the Sun is the center of the universe, and though we seem to be standing still, we are in fact hurtling through space as we circle the star.

Galileo had had a series of interviews with Pope Urban VIII some years before, in which he discussed his tide theory as proof that the Earth moved through space. The pontiff granted him permission to write the book — which Galileo originally called Dialogue on the Tides — but he demanded that Galileo treat Copernican theory in a hypothetical way only. Galileo presented the material as a series of discussions between two philosophers — who each took the position of one of the theories — and a neutral but well-educated layman. In order to get the book past the censors, Galileo had to present it as an equal consideration of both theories, but he was already convinced that the Ptolemaic model held no water.

The book was popular in its day, but it alienated Pope Urban VIII. Galileo was tried by the Inquisition, who ruled that he was “vehemently suspect of heresy” and too close to endorsing Copernican theory. The Dialogue was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books, and Galileo was ordered to recant and recite weekly psalms of penitence. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and none of his later books were permitted to be published in his lifetime. The Dialogue remained on the Index of Forbidden Books until 1835.

On this date in 1630, Quadequine, brother of Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag tribe, introduced popcorn to the English colonists. He offered the treat as a token of goodwill during peace negotiations. The colonists called it popped corn, parching corn, or rice corn, and it was popped on top of heated stones or by placing the kernels, or cobs, into the hot embers of a fire. The discovery of popcorn was not new; people had been consuming it since 300 B.C. In 1948 and 1950, ears of popcorn believed to be 4,000 years old were discovered in the Bat Caves of west central New Mexico. In 1650, the Spaniard Cobo said of the Peruvian Indians: “They toast a certain kind of corn until it bursts. They call it pisancalla, and they use it as a confection.” The popularity of popcorn has rarely waned, even during the Depression, when its relative inexpensive cost, at 5 or 10 cents a bag, made it one of the few luxuries even the down-and-out could afford. Americans consume more than 17.3 billion quarts of popcorn each year.

It’s the birthday of Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), born in Rockland, Maine (1892). She and her two sisters were raised by a single mother, and they grew up poor in rural Maine. In August of 1912, the 20-year-old Millay was asked to recite some poetry at an evening party at the Whitehall Inn in Camden, Maine. She had acted in local theater, and she knew how to give a good performance; and she was beautiful, slim and red-haired, with a rich voice that one reporter described as “a bronze bell.” She recited her long poem “Renascence,” which ends, “But East and West will pinch the heart / That can not keep them pushed apart; / And he whose soul is flat — the sky / Will cave in on him by and by.” One of the guests at the Whitehall was so impressed that she offered to pay for Millay to attend Vassar College.

Millay entered “Renascence” into a contest for the literary magazine The Lyric Year, where she hoped to win a cash prize. Instead, it came in fourth place, but when it was published it made Millay famous — even more so because she had not won, which caused a number of established poets to object publicly. The first-place winner announced that Millay’s poem was better than his, and refused to attend the awards ceremony, and the second-place winner offered her his money. She received congratulatory letters from many editors and poets, and she responded by sending them her photograph.

When she entered Vassar, she was the most famous student there. In 1917, she graduated and published her first book, Renascence and Other Poems (1917), and her fame preceded her to Greenwich Village, where she moved soon after. She lived in a 9-foot-wide house, and described her life as “very, very poor and very, very merry.” Years later, she wrote in a letter to her sister: “I’m so tired of hearing about ‘Renascence’ I’m nearly dead. I find it’s as hard to live down an early triumph as an early indiscretion.”

Her books include A Few Figs from Thistles (1920), The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver (1922), Fatal Interview (1931), and Mine the Harvest (1954).

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