Saturday Oct. 14, 2017

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I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I are
savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.

“Primitive” by Sharon Olds from Satan Says. © The University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of poet E.E. Cummings (Edward Estlin Cummings) (books by this author), born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894). He spent most of his life unhappy and irritable in New York, struggling to pay the bills, ostracized by other writers for his unpopular political views, yet he wrote many poems in a naïve style about the beauty of nature and love.

He had published several books of poetry, including Tulips and Chimneys (1923), but was still relatively unknown. He came to wider public attention by giving a series of lectures at Harvard University. Most lecturers spoke from behind a lectern, but he sat on the stage, read his poetry aloud, and talked about what it meant to him. The faculty members were embarrassed by his earnestness, but the undergraduates adored him and came to his lectures in droves. By the end of the 1950s, he had become the most popular poet in America. He loved performing, and loved the applause, and the last few years of his life were the happiest. He died on September 3, 1962.

In the first edition of his Collected Poems, he wrote in the preface, "The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople — it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. [...] You and I are human beings; most people are snobs."

It's the birthday of the 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower born in Denison, Texas (1890). He grew up in a poor family that was very religious. His mother was a pacifist. When her son chose to go to West Point for college, she broke down in tears. He took a position training soldiers after he graduated in 1915. He wanted to go overseas to fight in World War I, but it ended a week before he was supposed to go over to Europe. He wrote a guidebook of World War I battlefields, but was then stationed in the Philippines.

He finally got back to the United States in 1939, and he was stationed at a based in Louisiana where he supervised the largest military games ever carried out in this country, a simulation designed to help prepare for a land war in Europe. Eisenhower planned the strategy for the invading army, and the following December, after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he was put in charge of the strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe.

It's the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, in which William Duke of Normandy came across the channel from France and defeated the army of Harold II of England. The Normans became the rulers of England, and French was introduced into the English language. William had an army of about 7,000 cavalry and infantry. Harold had about as many men, but many of them untrained peasants. It was a close battle until William Duke of Normandy pretended to retreat and drew the Englishmen out of their position in pursuit and then turned and annihilated them.

It's the birthday of the short-story writer Katherine Mansfield (books by this author), born in Wellington, New Zealand (1888). She was the daughter of a successful businessman who sent her away to school in England. At 18, her parents brought her back to New Zealand, and she found that she no longer had anything in common with her family.

She became one of the wildest bohemians in New Zealand. She had affairs with men and women, lived with Aborigines, and published scandalous stories. She moved back to London and lived in the bohemian scene there. At one point, she married a man she barely knew and left him before the wedding night was over because she couldn't stand the pink bedspread.

She didn't begin to write the stories that made her famous until her younger brother came to see her in 1915. They had long talks, reminiscing about growing up in New Zealand. He left that fall for World War I and was killed two months later. She was devastated by his death, and she wrote a series of short stories about her childhood, including "The Garden Party," which many critics consider to be her masterpiece.

She said, "Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare fiddle?"

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