Sunday Apr. 5, 2015

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April 5, 1974

The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law,
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream.
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter’s giving ground
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.

“April 5, 1974” by Richard Wilbur from Collected Poems. © Harcourt, 2004. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is the Christian holiday of Easter Sunday, the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead three days after his crucifixion. Easter is a moveable feast; in other words, it's one of the few floating holidays in the calendar year, because it's based on the cycles of the moon. Jesus was said to have risen from the dead on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. For that reason, Easter can fall as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th. Easter also marks the end of the 40-day period of Lent and the beginning of Eastertide; the week before Easter is known as Holy Week and includes the religious holidays Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

The word "Easter" and most of the secular celebrations of the holiday come from pagan traditions. Anglo Saxons worshipped Eostre, the goddess of springtime and the return of the sun after the long winter. According to legend, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning it into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit became our Easter Bunny. Eggs were a symbol of fertility in part because they used to be so scarce during the winter. There are records of people giving each other decorated eggs at Easter as far back as the 11th century.

It's the birthday of Thomas Hobbes (books by this author), born in Westport, Wilshire, England (1588). He is considered to be the father of modern political philosophy.

His uncle had money, and Hobbes was intellectually gifted, so he made it to Oxford. He won a post tutoring the son of an important noble family. During the civil wars of England, he fled for his life to France, where he continued to teach and study. He was a scientist, a mathematician, a translator of the classics, and a writer on the law.

But his thoughts on morality and politics are what we remember him for. He argued that all people are equal, but that we pursue our own self-interest, and so we are all at war with each other. He argued that in order to gain some security for ourselves as individuals, we will give up some of our rights to government. He believed government should protect us from our own selfishness, and that we should reject any government that doesn't. The best government, he said, would have the power of a sea monster — a leviathan — which is the name of his most famous book.

In Leviathan (1651) he wrote, "There is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind while we live here; because life itself is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense."

It's the birthday of the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (books by this author), born in London (1837) to a family so wealthy he never had to work. He wrote poetry that was considered scandalous during the Victorian Era but doesn't come close to scandalous now. It was technically excellent in meter and intensely lyrical, but sometimes the words didn't make much sense.

What he liked was musical language, and to shock people. While at Oxford, he became notorious for gallivanting around at night, screaming blasphemous things to God. His collection Poems and Ballads (1866) contained poems about sadism and vampires. When he read his poems, he would sometimes jump around the room. He was personally accused of sadism, nihilism, masochism, bestiality, and bisexuality, all of which he accepted. Still, Oscar Wilde considered him a poseur. And even still, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature in 1909.

It's the birthday of the American crime and suspense writer Robert Bloch (books by this author), born in Chicago (1917). He wrote many stories, novels, and screenplays, but he is best known for creating the psychopathic killer Norman Bates in his novel Psycho (1959), which was adapted into the famous film by Alfred Hitchcock.

When he was nine, Block saw a Lon Chaney movie, and he slept with the light on for a long time afterward. While still in high school, he started a correspondence with the writer H.P. Lovecraft, who encouraged him to write his own stories. He sold his first to Weird Tales magazine when he was 17.

During the Depression, Bloch worked as a full-time writer because there was no other work to be had. He wrote horror, science fiction, supernatural fiction, and psychological thrillers, often using comedy in his stories. He said, "Comedy and horror are opposite sides of the same coin."

He almost quit writing when he was 41 because he felt he had nothing to show for it and his wife was sick with tuberculosis. But he hit it big with Psycho (1959), a novel about a seemingly normal member of a community who has absorbed the personality of his dead mother — and "Mother" is in charge. That same year he won the prestigious Hugo Award for his short story "That Hell-Bound Train."

Bloch told a biographer: "I discovered, much to my surprise — and particularly if I was writing in the first person — that I could become a psychopath quite easily. I could think like one and I could devise a manner of unfortunate occurrences. So I probably gave up a flourishing, lucrative career as a mass murderer."

He was often heard saying, "I have the heart of a child. I keep it in a jar on my shelf."

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