Art · Moments of Grace · The Internet

yet still he clings


Here’s the link to subscribe to what I believe Garrison Keillor is truly great for: the daily writer’s almanac. 

It’s a cocktail of beautiful poems,  sprinkled with literary tidbits and history. One of those daily emails truly worth getting. I always love hearing the almanac when I’m in the US but it’s a very short program, a couple minutes at the most, and in any given week, I would only be in the right place, at the right time once or twice to be able to hear it. Now I get to read them every day!

Here’s today’s selection, to give you a taste test:


by Richard Jones

In the desert, a traveler
returning to his family
is surprised
by a wild beast.

To save himself
from the fierce animal,
he leaps into a deep well
empty of water.

But at the bottom
is a dragon, waiting
with open mouth
to devour him.

The unhappy man,
not daring to go out
lest he should be
the prey of the beast,

not daring to jump
to the bottom
lest he should be
devoured by the dragon,

clings to the branch
of a bush growing
in the cracks of the well.
Hanging upon the bough,

he feels his hands
weaken, yet still
he clings, afraid
of his certain fate.

Then he sees two mice,
one white, the other black,
moving about the bush,
gnawing the roots.

The traveler sees this
and knows that he must
inevitably perish, that he will
never see his sons again.

But while thus hanging
he looks about and sees
on the leaves of the bush
some drops of honey.

These leaves
he reaches with his tongue
and licks the honey off,
with rapture.

“Rapture” by Richard Jones, from The Blessing: New and Selected Poems. © Copper Canyon Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission.


It’s the birthday of Pearl S. Buck, born Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, West Virginia (1892). Her parents, Absalom and Caroline, were missionaries in China who were spending some time in America after 10 years in China. When Pearl was a few months old, they returned to China, and Pearl grew up bilingual. Her parents were busy, and she spent a lot of time with her governess, Wang.

Her second novel was her most famous: The Good Earth (1931). It was the best-selling book of both 1931 and 1932, and it won the Pulitzer Prize. In 1938, she won the Nobel Prize in literature. Pearl S. Buck wrote nearly 100 books. She said, “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.”


It’s the birthday of a man who wrote a book about a horse, and the stallion he created became one of the most famous horses of all time, real of fictional: Walter Farley, (books by this author) born in Syracuse, New York (1916), the author of The Black Stallion (1941).


Today is the feast day of Saints John and Paul, who are not the famous apostles St. John and St. Paul. Saints John and Paul served Constantine and his daughter, Constantina. Not much is known about the facts of these brothers’ lives, but some sources say they were officers in the army, while others say that they were eunuchs. After Constantine died, the empire went through several unstable power changes. And when Julian was crowned emperor, he rejected Christianity and went back to the pagan religion that had pervaded the empire before Constantine. He believed he should lead an ascetic lifestyle, at the level of ordinary citizens, and in an attempt to rid the empire of bureaucracy and corruption, he got rid of servants and eunuchs. For whatever reason, Julian executed John and Paul in 362, and they became martyrs for the Christian faith. Ironically, it was on this same day in 373 that Emperor Julian was killed in battle against the Sassanid Empire.


And today, the feast day of Saints John and Paul, is the day in 1284 that, according to legend, the Pied Piper lured children out of the city of Hamelin, Germany, and to their death. The story goes that at some point earlier in the year, a man dressed in a colorful coat appeared in Hamelin, offering to get rid of the rats that were plaguing the town. The townspeople agreed to a set price. The man played a song on a flute, and lured all the rats out of the houses and barns and into the nearby River Weser, where they all drowned. But the townspeople were annoyed at his unconventional methods, and refused to pay him. 

On June 26, he returned to town, dressed like a hunter with a red cap. It was a Sunday, and all the adults were in church. He got out his flute and began to play, and 130 children followed him out of the town, through a gate and into a mountain, and were never seen again

The legend of the Pied Piper was first written down in a chorus book in the 14th century, but that book was lost a couple of hundred years later. The oldest surviving account is from the 15th century, and it says: “In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on 26 June, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced by a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen,” the hills around the city. It was written up again and again. The Brothers Grimm wrote down a version of the legend and the town’s response to it, and they wrote: “Until the middle of the 18th century, and probably still today, the street through which the children were led out to the town gate was called the bunge-lose (drumless, soundless, quiet) street, because no dancing or music was allowed there. Indeed, when a bridal procession on its way to church crossed this street, the musicians would have to stop playing. The mountain near Hamelin where the children disappeared is called Poppenberg. Two stone monuments in the form of crosses have been erected there, one on the left side and one on the right. Some say that the children were led into a cave, and that they came out again in Transylvania.”

Goethe and Robert Browning wrote poems about the Pied Piper.

To this day, no one knows exactly what inspired the legend of the Pied Piper, but it is clear that it is based on some historical event in Hamelin’s history. One theory is that it was some sort of plague or epidemic, possibly even one that would cause children to dance, and that the Piper was a metaphorical representation of Death. For many years, the most popular theory was that the children joined some sort of Children’s Crusade or military operation, and that the Pied Piper was their leader. But these days, most research supports the theory that the legend refers to the historical colonization of Eastern Europe, which began with Lower Germany. Settlers from Germany, and eventually other parts of Western Europe, were being recruited to settle throughout Eastern Europe, and the Piper was probably just such a landowner, who lured away the town’s citizens with promises of land. They were probably not actually children at all — they were “children of Hamelin,” meaning the citizens, or children, of the town.


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