Molly was the bravest
In April she would swing out
over the river on a rope
tied to an elm branch. There was still
ice along the bank and one day
her body was found down by the weir
with a bruised head, which meant she hit ice.
One summer evening she hugged me in her wet
black bathing suit after I brought her a milk shake.
My blood became hot and moved in all directions.
When we caught frogs to eat their legs
she said, ”We are animals.” And on the hill
by the river we illegally picked trillium.
All the boys wanted to marry her.
We kept putting the wildflowers she loved
on her grave. More than sixty years
later I see clearly that no one gets over anything
least of all Molly by the river,
swinging up through the air—
“Molly the Brave” by Jim Harrison from Dead Man’s Float. © Copper Canyon Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of writer and story collector Wilhelm Grimm (books by this author), born in Hanau, Germany (1786). He spent his life researching and writing with his older brother, Jacob; together they became known as the “Brothers Grimm.” The brothers complemented each other: Jacob was quiet, a better scholar than his brother, and preferred to be alone; Wilhelm was an imaginative storyteller who loved music and the company of friends. In 1825, Wilhelm married a pharmacist’s daughter, and although Jacob never married, they all continued to share a house. The brothers went off to the University of Marburg to study law together, where one of their professors inspired in them a passion for linguistics and cultural history. They decided to study folklore, which they considered a pure form of national literature. Both brothers found positions as librarians, and although they didn’t make much money, the jobs were flexible, and they had time to pursue their own scholarship.
The Grimms were interested in the stories of common people, but despite how they are portrayed these days, they didn’t actually wander through the German countryside collecting fairy tales. Instead, they asked people to come to their homes and recite stories. Most of these storytellers were educated, middle-class people, many of them young women. The brothers asked their visitors to recite stories they had read, or that had been told to them, so often they were stories that servants had shared. One family of three young women provided the Grimms with many stories they had grown up hearing, and since the family was French, the Grimm brothers ended up with a lot of stories that were actually French in origin. The brothers edited the stories to make them clearer, more logical, and more appropriate for children. They also added in phrases and language to create what they believed was an authentic rustic sound. Their Children’s and Household Tales (1812), commonly known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, went through seven editions in their lifetime, and each time they changed the stories. The brothers taught at the university in Berlin, and spent the final years of their lives attempting to create a comprehensive dictionary of the German language.
It’s the birthday of artist Winslow Homer, born in Boston (1836). His father had a series of failed business ventures, and when Homer graduated from high school he was determined to find a steady job. Since he was a talented artist, he signed up as an apprentice with Bufford’s, a commercial lithographer. He spent two years printing lithographs, from politicians’ portraits to title pages for sheet music. He hated the work and left on his 21st birthday. He moved to New York City, where he opened a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building and made a living as an illustrator for periodicals. The new magazine Harper’s Weekly offered him a salaried position, but he turned them down. He said later: “The slavery at Bufford’s was too fresh in my recollection to let me care to bind myself again. From the time I took my nose off that lithographic stone, I have had no master, and never shall have any.”
Harper’s Weekly agreed to hire him as a freelancer, and they sent him to the front lines of the Civil War, where he drew scenes of camp life and ordinary soldiers. Back in New York, he worked on oil paintings based on his sketches, and began to focus more on painting instead of drawing. He also shifted subjects, from city scenes to nature or country landscapes, especially the ocean. The novelist Henry James wrote: “We frankly confess that we detest his subjects — his barren plank fences, his glaring, bold blue skies [...] his freckled, straight-haired Yankee urchins, his flat-breasted maidens, suggestive of a dish of rural doughnuts and pie. He has chosen the least pictorial features of the least pictorial range of scenery and civilization.” In 1884, after spending 18 months in an English fishing village, Homer moved permanently to a small town in Maine, where he spent the last 25 years of his life painting ocean landscapes. It wasn’t until the last decade of his life that he made enough money from his paintings to feel financially stable.
It’s the birthday of “The Flying Dutchman,” baseball great Honus Wagner (John Peter Wagner), born in Carnegie, Pennsylvania (1874). Wagner was a sensational hitter, a brilliant base runner, a flawless fielder, and an outstanding shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, hitting 101 home runs between 1897 and 1917. One of the first five players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1936), he is still considered by many people to be baseball’s greatest player. There are only about 50 original prints of his baseball card still in existence. In July of 2000, a mint-condition card sold at auction to an anonymous bidder for $1.1 million.
Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo received its premiere on this date in 1607, in Mantua, Italy. It told the story of Orpheus, who descends into Hades to retrieve his dead wife, Eurydice. Around this time, musical theater consisted largely of orchestral interludes between the acts of straight plays, but some composers were experimenting with including music in the action of the play itself. L’Orfeo was the first fully developed works of the new genre in which all the actors sang, and people liked it.
It’s the birthday of Jane Hirshfield (books by this author), born in New York City (1953). She went to Princeton, where she was in the first graduating class to include women, in 1973. She published her first poem not long after, then went off to northern California to study Buddhism for the next eight years, during which time she didn’t write at all. She said: “I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life. And so I couldn’t just decide I was going to write no matter what; I first had to find out what it means to live.” Her latest collection, The Beauty (2015), came out last year.
She said, “One breath taken completely; one poem, fully written, fully read — in such a moment, anything can happen.”
It’s the birthday of Irish novelist George Augustus Moore (books by this author), born Ballyglass, Ireland (1852). Moore said growing up he was “the boy that no schoolmaster wants.” His father was a member of Parliament and owned racehorses. He had wanted Moore to become a military man, but after his father died in 1870, Moore inherited some money and was free to move to Paris and live out his life as an artist.
Up until 1876, Moore had planned on being a painter, and he studied at French art academies. He was good, but not good enough. He once said, “The lot of critics is to be remembered by what they failed to understand.” Moore decided to educate himself by reading as much as he could, especially philosophy, while sitting in Paris cafés. He had to leave Paris for Ireland when his father’s estate went into financial ruin, but the money problems taught him a lot about business and politics.
He would eventually become very anti-British in his views, and he became more active in the Irish Revival. He worked with Yeats and the early days of the Abbey Theatre. He also focused on bringing back the popularity of the Gaelic language.
Moore’s family estate, Moore Hall, was burned by rebels in 1923 after the establishment of the Irish Free State, but by that time he was again living in London.
Moore is known for introducing realist fiction to England with his book Esther Waters (1894). He also wrote confessions and memoirs, such as the Hail and Farewell trilogy (1911–14) and Confessions of a Young Man (1888).
Moore’s public persona was very vain and arrogant, and he was known for referring to his own works as “great books.” Moore said, “A great artist is always before his time or behind it.”
He said, “A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”