Saturday, March 13, 2010

Snapshot: "You must find your own garden" - Nelson Mandela

In the early 1970s, Nelson Mandela began keeping a vegetable garden on the prison grounds (His first plot was a rocky patch measuring just on yard wide; lacking tools, he had to dig with his hands.) In so doing, he not only found a way to supplement his fellow inmates' scanty diet with fresh vegetables--he cultivated a space apart, a pocket of calm amid harsh realities.
- Oprah Magazine (March 2009)

Invictus is a poem that inspired Mandela during the 27 years he spent in jail, imprisoned by the white South African government for fighting against apartheid.


Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

- William Ernest Henley

Friday, March 5, 2010

Snapshot: Leslie Marmon Silko & Lady Gregory

from Writer's Almanac
It's the birthday of novelist Leslie Marmon Silko, born in Albuquerque, New Mexico (1948). She grew up on a Pueblo reservation, where her community was made up of matrilineal families. Her first novel, Ceremony (1977), was one of the first novels ever published by a Native American woman. It's a masterpiece.

It's also the birthday of a playwright and folklorist who was also W.B. Yeats's early patron, long-term and most loyal friend, a woman G.B. Shaw called "the greatest Irishwoman." Lady Gregory was born Isabella Augusta Persse on this day in 1852 (some sources say March 15) in Roxborough, County Tipperary, Ireland. She helped lead the Irish Literary Revival in the early 20th century and she co-founded, along with Yeats, the Abbey Theatre.

Irish historian R.F. Foster has said that W.B. Yeats's friendship with Lady Gregory was "the great enabling relationship of his life." In his early years, she was his patron, and even after he'd become rich and famous, he continued to spend summers at her Coole estate in western Ireland. Her place provided inspiration for a number of his poems, including "The Wild Swans at Coole," "I walked among the seven woods of Coole," "In the Seven Woods," "Coole Park, 1929," and "Coole Park and Ballylee."

"The Wild Swans at Coole" begins:

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.