Tuesday Mar. 3, 2015

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Greeting to Spring (Not Without Trepidation)

Over the back of the Florida basker,
over the froth of the Firth of Forth,
Up from Tahiti and Madagascar,
Lo, the sun walks north.

The first bright day makes sing the slackers
While leaves explode like firecrackers,
The duck flies forth to greet the spring
And sweetly municipal pigeons sing.

Where the duck quacks, where the bird sings,
We will speak of past things.

Come out with your marbles, come out with your Croup,
The grass is as green as a Girl Scout troop;
In the Mall the stone acoustics stand
Like a listening ear for the Goldman band.

At an outside table, where the sun’s bright glare is,
We will speak of darkened Paris.

Meanwhile, like attendants who hasten the hoofs
Of the ponies who trot in the shadow of roofs,
The sun, in his running, will hasten the plan
Of plants and fishes, beast and man.

We’ll turn our eyes to the sogging ground
And guess if the earth is cracked or round.

Over the plans of the parties at strife,
Over the planes in the waiting north,
Over the average man and his wife,
Lo, the sun walks forth!

“Greeting to Spring (Not Without Trepidation)” by Robert Lax, from Tertium Quid. © Stride Publications, 2005. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It was on this day in 1875 that the opera Carmen appeared on stage for the first time at the Opéra-Comique in France. When it premiered, the audience was shocked by the characters of Carmen, a gypsy girl, and her lover, Don José. The opera ran for 37 performances even though it came out late in the season, and it came back the next season, too.

Nietzsche heard Carmen 20 different times, and thought of it as a musical masterpiece. Tchaikovsky first heard Carmen in 1880. Bizet died of a heart attack just three months after the opera's debut.

It was on this day in 1923 that Time magazine was first published. On the cover of the first issue was retired Speaker of the House Joseph G. Gannon.

Circulation has declined steadily since the late 1990s, but Time is still the most widely read weekly newsmagazine in the world. There's a global audience of 25 million people — of whom about 20 million are American.

It was on this day in 1931 that "The Star-Spangled Banner" became the official national anthem of the United States.

The lyrics come from a poem written by Francis Scott Key more than a century before, "Defence of Fort McHenry." He'd spent a night toward the end of the War of 1812 hearing the British navy bombard Baltimore, Maryland. The bombardment lasted 25 hours — and in the dawn's early light, Francis Scott Key emerged to see the U.S. flag still waving over Fort McHenry. He jotted the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry" on the back of an envelope. Then he went to his hotel and made another copy, which was printed in the Baltimore American a week later.

The tune for the Star-Spangled Banner comes from an old British drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven," which was very popular at men's social clubs in London during the 1700s. Francis Scott Key himself did the pairing of the tune to his poem. It was a big hit.

For the next century, a few different anthems were used at official U.S. ceremonies, including "My Country Tis of Thee" and "Hail Columbia." The U.S. Navy adopted "The Star-Spangled Banner" for its officialdom in 1889, and the presidency did in 1916. But it wasn't until this day in 1931 — just 80 years ago — that Congress passed a resolution and Hoover signed into law the decree that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the official national anthem of the United States of America.

Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata was published on this date in 1802. Its real name is the slightly less evocative "Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Opus 27, No. 2," and its Italian subtitle is translated as "almost a fantasy." In 1832, five years after Beethoven's death, a German critic compared the sonata to the effect of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne, and the interpretation became so popular that, by the end of the century, the piece was universally known as the "Moonlight Sonata." Beethoven himself had attributed the emotion of the piece to sitting at the bedside of a friend who had suffered an untimely death.

It's the birthday of the host of "This American Life": Ira Glass (books by this author), born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1959. He got into radio, he says, "totally by accident." It was 1978, he was 19, had just finished his freshman year of college, and was looking for a summer job with an ad agency or a TV station. He managed to talk his way into an internship with NPR despite the fact he'd never listened to public radio. He started out as a tape cutter and as a desk assistant, graduated from Brown University, and continued working for public radio as newscast writer, editor, producer of All Things Considered, reporter, and substitute host. He moved to Chicago in 1989, and in 1995, he launched This American Life. The programs usually feature an in-depth look at the lives of ordinary people; sometimes the stories are sad, sometimes ironic, sometimes funny.

He's the editor of an anthology called The New Kings of Nonfiction (2007).

Today is the birthday of the poet James Merrill (1926) (books by this author), born in New York City. His father was the co-founder of Merrill Lynch. With an ample trust fund, James never had to worry about money, so he was free to devote himself to poetry. But even though he was wealthy himself, he was sensitive to the fact that most artists weren't, so he created the Ingram Merrill Foundation in 1956, with a permanent endowment for writers and painters. His several collections of poetry include The Changing Light at Sandover (1982), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award.

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

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