Wednesday Aug. 3, 2016

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The Bell

In the tower the bell
is alone, like a man
in his room,
thinking and thinking.

The bell is made of iron.
It takes the weight
of a man
to make the bell move.

Far below, the bell feels
hands on a rope.
It considers this.
It turns its head.

Miles away,
a man in his room
hears the clear sound,
and lifts his head to listen.

“The Bell” by Richard Jones from The Blessing. © Copper Canyon Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It's the birthday of the poet Marvin Bell (books by this author), born in Center Moriches, a farming community on the south shore of Long Island (1937). After a stint in the Army, he returned home in 1966 and published his first book of poetry, Things We Dreamt We Died For, to critical acclaim. Ten years later, he published Stars Which See, Stars Which Do Not See,which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Bell went on to teach at the Iowa Writers' Workshop for 40 years, and served as Iowa's first poet laureate in 2000.

Marvin Bell said, "Much of our lives involves the word 'no.' In school we are mostly told, 'Don't do it this way. Do it that way.' But art is the big yes. In art, you get a chance to make something where there was nothing."

Today is the birthday of poet Hayden Carruth (books by this author), born in Waterbury, Connecticut (1921). He attended college in Chapel Hill before serving two years in the Army Air Forces during World War II, and later he went to graduate school on the GI Bill, fell in love with jazz, learned the clarinet, and began to write poetry. He worked as an editor in Chicago, but in 1953, he suffered a nervous breakdown and spent the next year and a half in treatment for alcoholism and anxiety. He underwent electroshock therapy and left by his own account "in worse shape than I went in."

Carruth then decided to move to the rural communities of Vermont and New York State. He began to farm, worked as a mechanic, hired himself out as a field hand, and wrote nightly, sometimes not finishing with farm work until after midnight. He freelanced occasionally, but his income after several years was a scant $600, and at one point he had to steal corn meant for livestock to survive. He kept up this hardscrabble lifestyle for decades, and his poetry reflected those on the margins who live by their hands: field workers, farmers, jazz musicians, mental patients, war protesters, lonely fathers. The writer Wendell Berry credits Carruth's poetry for showing him that there was beauty to be found in places others considered "nowhere" as he weighed his own return to rural life.

In 1996, at the age of 75, his collection Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey won the National Book Award. Carruth died in 2008 after complications from a stroke.

Today is the birthday of the journalist and war correspondent Ernest Taylor "Ernie" Pyle (books by this author), born near Dana, Indiana (1900). He went to Indiana University, and with only a semester left, he quit school went to work on the Washington Daily News. He soon made editor, married, and worked nonstop for three years. But he was restless and didn't like being behind a desk, so he and his wife packed up their Ford roadster and took off on a 9,000-mile trip around the U.S.

When World War II broke out, he became a war correspondent, writing stories from the front from the soldier's perspective. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his work and was instrumental in securing combat pay for troops. Congress named this legislation the Ernie Pyle Bill.

He said: "Someday when peace has returned to this odd world I want to come to London again and stand on a certain balcony on a moonlit night and look down upon the peaceful silver curve of the Thames with its dark bridges."

Pyle was killed by machine-gun fire on an island just north of Okinawa on April 18, 1945. When control of the island was regained by the Japanese, the monument to Ernie Pyle there was one of just a few allowed to remain standing.

On this day in 1841, prolific children's author Juliana Horatia Ewing (books by this author) was born in the village of Ecclesfield in Yorkshire, England. She was the eldest daughter of the Reverend Alfred Gatty and his wife, Margaret Gatty, a scientist, science writer, and children's author.

In a memoir of the writer, Juliana Horatia and Her Books, Juliana's sister writes that Julie was "at once the projector and manager of all our nursery doings," originating each fresh game and idea, keeping her siblings entertained with stories she would invent as she told them, taking inspiration from the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm brothers, and even from the woodcuts in a German ABC in the children's library. Juliana set her siblings to planting garden plots, wrote plays for them, made bowers under the lilac bushes, and gave fantastical names, like "The Mermaid's Ford," to the places they played.

In 1859, Juliana founded a lending library in Ecclesfield, and in 1861 began her publishing career with the short stories "A Bit of Green" and "The Blackbirds Nest." In 1866, Juliana's mother began Aunt Judy's Magazine for Children, giving it the nickname her seven younger children had for Juliana in her role as their favorite storyteller, and eventually printing most of her daughter's stories for children. Juliana's stories were wildly popular and would also, during her lifetime, be published as many stand-alone volumes and collections.

In 1867, Juliana married Major Alexander Ewing of the British army and 1869 published her first book, Mrs. Overtheway's Remembrances, a collection of stories from Aunt Judy's Magazine, followed by the book The Brownies and Other Tales. Her stories were meant to entertain as well as promote Christian values. And as her sister remembers, they showed her universal sympathy for the interests and troubles of even those who appeared to the Victorian eye as "unworthy," for, to Juliana, "the value of each soul [was] equal in God's sight."

There were new stories and poems every year. 1871 saw the first volume of her Verses for Children, and in 1879 she published one of her best-known books, Jackanapes, a wistful tale of heroic sacrifice. That same year, Major Ewing was ordered to Malta, but Juliana was forced to stay behind owing to ill health. When he returned in 1883, the couple moved to Devonshire, then to lodgings at Bath early in 1885, perhaps to take advantage of its spas and thermal springs. Juliana failed to improve and died in Bath the following month. Her poem "Gifts" is gentle reflection on separation:

You ask me what since we must part
You shall bring back to me.
Bring back a pure and faithful heart
As true as mine to thee.

You talk of gems from foreign lands,
Of treasure, spoil, and prize.
Ah love! I shall not search your hands
But look into your eyes.

Although practically unknown today, Juliana Horatia Ewing was immensely popular in her time and still has a dedicated following of readers today. She was also enormously influential on others: Edith Nesbit, author of The Five Children and It series, was an admirer; Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, is said to have known her novel Jan of the Windmill by heart; and the founders of the Girl Guide movement named their junior-level scouts in honor of her Brownies.

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