The curtain parts one last time
and the ones who killed
and were killed,
who loved inordinately,
who went berserk, were flayed alive,
descended to Hades,
raged, wept, schemed—
victims and victimizers alike—
smile and nod and graciously bow.
So glad it’s finally over,
they stride off
suddenly a bit ridiculous
in their overwrought costumes.
And the crowd—still dark,
like God beyond the footlights of the world—
rises to its feet
and roars like the sea.
“After the Opera” by Richard Schiffman from What the Dust Doesn’t Know. © Salmon Poetry, 2017. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
On this day in 1921, the organization PEN International was founded by novelist John Galsworthy and writer Catherine Dawson Scott, in London. PEN is an acronym for “poets, playwrights, editors, essayists, and novelists.” It promotes international intellectual exchange and good will among writers, and defends writers who are being persecuted by their governments.
It’s the birthday of soprano Jenny Lind, born in Stockholm, Sweden (1820). She is considered to be one of the most gifted sopranos ever. In 1840, she was appointed member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and official singer of the Swedish Court. She was known also as a great philanthropist.
Hans Christian Andersen fell in love with her, but she did not return his love. Among other stories, he wrote “The Nightingale” (1843) as a tribute to Jenny Lind. He said, “[S]he can never be mine … though her voice stays with me, forever, in my story.” Lind would later be known as “The Swedish Nightingale.”
In 1848 she spent a lot of time in London with Chopin, who wrote about Lind in letters to his family and friends. He wrote, “Yesterday I was at a dinner with J. Lind, who afterwards sang me Swedish things till midnight.” She came to Paris the next year to marry Chopin, but fled Paris a month later to get away from a cholera epidemic and political unrest. She wrote in a letter to a friend: “Things and experiences approached me which deeply affected my peace of mind … I was very near to marrying. But again it came to nothing.”
On October 11, 2003, “Nightingale Opus 24” premiered in Belgium. In this drama, the narrator introduces each act with original quotes from Chopin’s letters and quotes from the Nightingale story. It’s the story of the musical encounters of Chopin and Jenny Lind.
After parting with Chopin, Jenny Lind no longer performed in operas, only in concerts. She toured the U.S. for a few years, where she raised money for charity and married Otto Goldschmidt, her pianist. They settled in England, where she died in 1887. Her memorial is at Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey in London, near that of Handel, and William Shakespeare.
It’s the birthday of architect Le Corbusier, born Charles Édouard Jeanneret in Le-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland (1887). He was also a painter, a sculptor, and a writer. Le Corbusier was the pen name he chose when he started writing articles for The New Spirit, a magazine he co-founded in Paris in 1920. Le Corbusier collected his articles in his first book, Toward a New Architecture (1923), and it became a big influence on other architects. He wrote that “a curved street is a donkey track, a straight street, a road for men.” His other books include The City of Tomorrow (1929), When the Cathedrals Were White (1947), and The Modular (1954).
Le Corbusier said, “A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe and 50 times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.”
He said: “Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.”
The Yom Kippur War began on this date in 1973. It’s also known as the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, the Ramadan War, and the October War. It began with a joint attack by Syrian and Egyptian forces — supported in part by the Soviet Union — on two fronts in Israel. The Arab allies planned the attack to recapture the land that Israel had taken during the Six-Day War in 1967; the territory included the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights.
The day of the attack was chosen with care. October 6 was the date of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar, and is a strict Sabbath day, which means no work may be performed on that day. As a result, many Israeli soldiers were not at their posts, and Israel was literally caught off guard. Iraq and Jordan stepped in to support the other Arab forces, and the United States airlifted weapons to Israel. Gradually the Israel Defense Forces reclaimed the territory that had been taken back by the Arabs. The United Nations issued a cease-fire resolution on October 22, and open hostilities finally ended on October 26. Israel technically won the war, but sustained heavy casualties and loss of military equipment. The reputation of Anwar el-Sadat, Egypt’s president, grew throughout the Middle East due to his forceful and decisive attacks at the beginning of the war, and he claimed it as an Egyptian victory.
The following year, Israel agreed to return part of the Sinai to Egypt. The rest of the peninsula was returned in 1982. Syria was not included in the cease-fire agreement between Egypt and Israel, so nothing was to stop Israel from driving Syrian forces back and claiming even more of the Golan Heights than they had before.
On this day in 1683, the first Mennonites arrived in America. Mennonites were persecuted in Europe and tended to move around to avoid violence, rather than fight other Christians. The American colonies promised a home where they could settle for good and practice their faith in peace.
Francis Daniel Pastorius, a German lawyer and teacher, was hired by German merchants and the Frankfurt Land Company to found a colony of Mennonites in America. He purchased 15,000 acres in Pennsylvania from William Penn and founded Germantown, which later became part of Philadelphia.
Pastorius was more open-minded than most of his white settler contemporaries. After eating with a group of Native Americans, he wrote, “[they] have never in their lives heard the teaching of Jesus concerning temperance and contentment, yet they far excel the Christians in carrying it out.” In 1688, he wrote a treatise to slave-holding Quakers in Germantown to convince them to free their slaves. This was the first formal protest of slavery recorded in the U.S. colonies.
Most people confuse Mennonites with the Amish, because they’re both Anabaptist sects and wear simple, traditional clothing. But the Mennonites are actually more liberal and don’t shun members for violating group rules. Along with the Quakers, Mennonites have a strong history of pacifism and concern for social justice.