Sep. 19, 2014
For a Five-Year-Old
A snail is climbing up the window-sill
into your room, after a night of rain.
You call me in to see and I explain
that it would be unkind to leave it there:
it might crawl to the floor; we must take care
that no one squashes it. You understand,
and carry it outside, with careful hand,
to eat a daffodil.
I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:
your gentleness is moulded still by words
from me, who have trapped mice and shot wild birds,
from me, who drowned your kittens, who betrayed
your closest relatives and who purveyed
the harshest kind of truth to many another,
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.
Today is the birthday of author William Golding (books by this author), born in Newquay, Cornwall, England (1911). His first novel is also his best-known book: Lord of the Flies (1954), written while Golding was working as a schoolteacher. It was rejected 21 times before a new editor at Faber & Faber of London took a chance on it. It didn't sell well at first, but enjoyed a revival in the 1960s, and is now one of the most frequently taught (and challenged) books in schools and colleges. Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1983.
On this date in 1940, Polish soldier Witold Pilecki allowed himself to be captured by the Nazis. He was a captain in the Polish resistance, and he wanted to find out what was going on near the town of Auschwitz. His superior officers believed it was just a German camp for prisoners of war, but Pilecki suspected that something else was happening there. He hounded his commanders until they finally gave him the go-ahead to join a crowd of Polish citizens who were being rounded up by Nazi soldiers. Pilecki, who left behind a wife and two young children, was taken to Auschwitz along with the others, just as he'd planned. He was given a number — 4859 — and soon realized the true purpose of the camp.
Pilecki remained there for nearly three years, during which time he smuggled out detailed reports of the atrocities with the camp's dirty laundry. His reports of gas chambers and ovens to dispose of human remains were so horrific that no one in the Polish underground believed him. And even though his reports made their way to the British and the Americans, suggesting ways to liberate the camp, still nothing was done. Meanwhile, he did what he could to arrange escapes for his fellow inmates.
Finally, in 1943, frustrated with the lack of action, Pilecki faked a case of typhus and escaped from the hospital. After the war, the Polish underground recruited him to spy on the country's new occupiers, the Soviets. But he was captured by the Polish Communist regime and executed for espionage, in 1948. His story was suppressed until after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
It was on this day in 1819 that 24-year-old John Keats (books by this author) wrote the ode "To Autumn." It is one of the most anthologized poems in the English language. He wrote to his friend: "Somehow a stubble plain looks warm — in the same way that some pictures look warm — this struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it."
Keats was despairing about that year of his poetic life. In November, he wrote to his brother, "Nothing could have in all its circumstances fallen out worse for me than the last year has done, or could be more damping to my poetical talent."
But these days, Keats scholars call 1819 the "Living Year," the "Great Year," or the "Fertile Year." Keats had written almost all his great poetry during that year, including a series of odes during that spring and summer, among them "Ode to a Nightingale," "Ode to a Grecian Urn," and "Ode to Psyche." "To Autumn" was the last of these odes. Keats died from tuberculosis less than two years later, at age 25.
"To Autumn," which the critic Harold Bloom called "as close to perfect as any shorter poem in the English Language," begins:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®
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