Ah, you three women whom I have loved in this
long life, along with the few others.
And the four I may have loved, or stopped short
of loving. I wander through these woods
making songs of you. Some of regret, some
of longing, and a terrible one of death.
I carry the privacy of your bodies
and hearts in me. The shameful ardor
and the shameless intimacy, the secret kinds
of happiness and the walled-up childhoods.
I carol loudly of you among trees emptied
of winter and rejoice quietly in summer.
A score of women if you count love both large
and small, real ones that were brief
and those that lasted. Gentle love and some
almost like an animal with its prey.
What is left is what’s alive in me. The failing
of your beauty and its remaining.
You are like countries in which my love
took place. Like a bell in the trees
that makes your music in each wind that moves.
A music composed of what you have forgotten.
That will end with my ending.
"Cherishing What Isn't" by Jack Gilbert, from The Dance Most of All. © Alfred A Knopf, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Biochemist Selman Abraham Waksman, discoverer of streptomycin, the first effective treatment of tuberculosis, was born in Ukraine on this day in 1888.
It's the birthday of American author and columnist Amy Vanderbilt (books by this author), born in New York City in 1908, cousin of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railway magnate. She began in journalism at the age of 16 by writing society and feature articles for the Staten Island Advance. In 1952, she wrote the 700-page Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Book of Etiquette. It sold millions of copies and established her as the foremost authority on the subject.
It is the birthday of the Moravian natural scientist and meteorologist Johann Gregor Mendel, born in Czechoslovakia in 1822. From 1856 to 1863, he performed experiments on 28,000 edible pea plants. From his observations, he developed his theory of inheritance, including the notion of recombination of genes, which became the basis of the modern science of genetics.
It's the birthday of the painter Edward Hopper, born in Nyack, New York (1882). By the time he was 12, he was already six feet tall. He was skinny, gangly, made fun of by his classmates, painfully shy, and spent much of his time alone drawing.
After he finished art school, he took a trip to Paris and spent almost all of his time there alone, reading or painting. In Paris, he realized that he had fallen in love with light. He said the light in Paris was unlike anything he'd ever seen before. He tried to re-create it in his paintings.
He came back to New York and was employed as an illustrator at an ad agency, which he loathed. In his spare time, he drove around and painted train stations and gas stations and corner saloons.
Hopper had only sold one painting by the time he was 40 years old, but his first major exhibition — in 1933 at the Museum of Modern Art — made him famous. His pieces in that show had titles like Houses by the Railroad, Manhattan Bridge Loop, Room in Brooklyn, Roofs of Washington Square, Cold Storage Plant, Lonely House, and Girl on Bridge. Though his work was more realistic and less experimental than most other painters at the time, he painted his scenes in a way that made them seem especially lonely and eerie.
Edward Hopper said: "Maybe I am slightly inhuman ... All I ever wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house."
Today is the birthday of the American poet Stephen Vincent Benét (books by this author) born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (1898). His father was a military man who read poetry to his children. All of the Benét kids grew up to become writers of some sort.
Stephen published his first book at age 17, went to Yale, and served in World War I as a civilian because his poor vision kept him out of the Army; after the war, he submitted his third volume of poetry — Heavens and Earth (1920) — in place of a master's thesis. He also wrote three novels and some short stories, but he's best known for a long poem that he wrote while in Paris: John Brown's Body (1928). It's an epic in eight sections and tells the story of the Civil War, beginning with John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry and ending just after Lincoln's assassination.
He also wrote the short story The Devil and Daniel Webster (1937), which was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post. It's a tall tale about a New Hampshire farmer who sells his soul to the Devil and then hires orator Daniel Webster to argue his case in front of a midnight jury of American villains. Webster rises from his grave to take the case, saying, "If two New Hampshiremen aren't a match for the devil, we might as well give the country back to the Indians."
He wrote, "Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways."