Tonight, I am in love with poetry,
with the good words that saved me,
with the men and women who
uncapped their pens and laid the ink
on the blank canvas of the page.
I am shameless in my love; their faces
rising on the smoke and dust at the end
of day, their sullen eyes and crusty hearts,
the murky serum now turned to chalk
along the gone cords of their spines.
I’m reciting the first anonymous lines
that broke night’s thin shell: sonne under wode.
A baby is born us bliss to bring. I have labored
sore and suffered death. Jesus’ wounds so wide.
I am wounded with tenderness for all who labored
in dim rooms with their handful of words,
battering their full hearts against the moon.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek.
Wake, now my love, awake: for it is time.
For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love!
What can I do but love them? Sore throated
they call from beneath blankets of grass,
through the wind-torn elms, near the river’s
edge, voices shorn of everything but the one
hope, the last question, the first loss, calling
Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears.
Whenas in silks my Julia goes, calling Why do I
languish thus, drooping and dull as if I were all earth?
Now they are bones, the sweet ones who once
considered a cat, a nightingale, a hare, a lamb,
a fly, who saw a Tyger burning, who passed
five summers and five long winters, passed them
and saved them and gave them away in poems.
They could not have known how I would love them,
worlds fallen from their mortal fingers.
When I cannot see to read or walk alone
along the slough, I will hear you, I will
bring the longing in your voices to rest
against my old, tired heart and call you back.
“Tonight I Am In Love” by Dorianne Laux from Facts About the Moon. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Mount Vesuvius erupted, destroying the Roman city of Pompeii, on this date in the year 79. Pompeii was about five miles away from the mountain, and it was a resort town for Rome’s elite. It’s estimated that about 20,000 people lived in and around Pompeii at that time, and most of them were able to escape relatively unscathed.
Just after noon, a plume of ash, pumice rock, and debris shot up into the air and began falling on the surrounding area. Before long, the ash in the streets of Pompeii lay nine feet deep. Pliny the Younger witnessed the eruption of Vesuvius from across the Bay of Naples, and noted that the billowing soot, rocks, and gas looked like an enormous pine tree. It eclipsed the sun. “Darkness fell,” Pliny wrote, “not the dark of a moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a dark room.” Even from his safe distance, he observed, “I believed I was perishing with the world, and the world with me.” About five thousand people died — most likely from a blast of blistering hot, poisonous gas, not debris or lava — and the whole city was buried under millions of tons of ash and debris.
Pompeii and the nearby city of Herculaneum were rediscovered in the 18th century. They were almost completely intact, buried under about 23 feet of volcanic debris. The modern science of archaeology was born with the widespread excavations of the two cities. The excavation is still ongoing today, with about one-third of Pompeii still buried.
Mount Vesuvius erupted last in 1944, and experts believe it could erupt again at any time. Today, about 3 million people live within a few miles of the crater; 600,000 of them live close enough to the volcano that they would not survive an eruption today. Scientists monitor the volcano — one of the world’s most dangerous — around the clock and have a plan to evacuate the area in advance, if an eruption seems imminent.
It’s the baptismal day of poet Robert Herrick (books by this author), born in London (1591). He’s the author of the lines, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying, / And this same flower that smiles to-day / To-morrow will be dying.” They appear in his poem “To the Virgins, to make much of Time.” He worked as a goldsmith, went to college, and left London for the English countryside, where he stayed for many years and wrote most of his poetry. He wrote short lyric poems and songs. He wrote about seducing women and taking advantage of your youth, but he never married and most of the women in his poems were probably imaginary. He also wrote religious poems. His poetry was distributed among friends and eventually reached people in higher places, making Herrick known throughout England. In 1648, he published Hesperides, which contained more than 1,000 poems.