Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice —
a silver frieze —
except the winter cluster of the bees.
Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.
Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.
Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive —
trembling stars cloistered above —
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.
“The Bee Carol” by Carol Ann Duffy from The Bees. © Faber & Faber, Inc., 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today we celebrate the birthday of Russian writer Yevgenia Ginzburg (books by this author), who was probably born on this day in Moscow (1904). She was a teacher and a journalist, and when she was 32, she was arrested in an anti-Communist roundup; her husband and parents were also arrested. Ginzburg was sentenced as an "enemy of the people," and she spent the next 18 years in prison, forced labor, or exile — 10 years were spent in a labor camp in remote Siberia. She survived to write memoirs of her time in the gulag, Journey into the Whirlwind (1967) and Within the Whirlwind (1979). They were published abroad, but Ginzburg died in Moscow in 1977, 12 years before her books were finally published in the Soviet Union.
It's the birthday of fiction writer Hortense Calisher (books by this author), born in New York City (1911). Her father was Southern, and she said he had "a towering pride in his Jewishness and in his southernness." He made his money manufacturing soap and perfume, and even though Calisher grew up during the Depression, she felt comfortable, surrounded by books and music. She started writing in journals when she was seven, but she didn't try to publish anything until she was almost 40. She sent some stories to The New Yorker, and they published five of them.
She published her first novel, False Entry (1961), at the age of 50 — it was 600 pages long. After that, she turned out book after book, 23 novels and short-story collections in all. She was 90 years old when she published her final novel, Sunday Jews (2002), and two years later, she published a memoir, Tattoo for a Slave (2004).
It's the birthday of the Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne, the lifelong muse of poet W.B. Yeats, born in Surrey, England (1865). She and Yeats first met when they were both 25 years old. He fell in love with her immediately and remained in love for the rest of his life.
Maud Gonne was tall and beautiful. Yeats wrote: "I had never thought to see in a living woman such great beauty. A complexion like the blossom of apples. Her movements were worthy of her form."
Yeats asked her to marry him in 1891, but she refused. It was the first of many times that she rejected his marriage proposals. But they remained close to each other throughout their lives, and agreed that they had a "spiritual union."
In response to one of Yeats' many marriage proposals, Maud Gonne told him: "You would not be happy with me. ... You make beautiful poetry out of what you call your unhappiness and you are happy in that. Marriage would be such a dull affair. Poets should never marry."
In 1911, she wrote a letter to him and said, "Our children were your poems of which I was the father sowing the unrest & storm which made them possible & you the mother who brought them forth in suffering & in the highest beauty."
Maud Gonne campaigned for land reform, helped tenants fight eviction, advocated for political prisoners, began a program that fed lunch to Dublin schoolkids, and founded the Daughters of Erin. Yeats wrote many poems for her, including "When You are Old" and "Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven."
On this day in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed for $15 million, which was roughly three cents an acre. The land, which spanned from Montana to the port of New Orleans, doubled the size of the United States.