Mar. 27, 1998

Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now

by A. E. Housman


Today's Reading: "Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now" by A.E. Housman.

It's the birthday in 1924, Newark, New Jersey, of singer SARAH VAUGHAN. She entered an amateur talent contest on a dare back in 1942 at the Apollo Theater in New York singing "Body and Soul." She won and the following year Earl Hines asked her to join his band as the singer and backup pianist. She jumped to Billy Eckstine's big band the next year and made her first recordings. She said, "I like horns. I always wanted to imitate them. Parker and Gillespie, they were my teachers."

It was on this day in 1912 that 3,000 JAPANESE CHERRY TREES were planted along the Tidal Basin and Riverside Drive in Washington, D.C. Three years earlier, Helen Herron Taft, President Taft's wife, had scoured all the Wasington nurseries looking for this particular kind of tree and bought every one of them she could find, 80 in all, and planted them along the Potomac River. The following December, the city of Tokyo shipped 2,000 of them to her as a gift, but they were diseased and had to be destroyed. Two years later, they sent 3,000 and Mrs. Taft oversaw their planting on this day in 1912.

It's the birthday of GLORIA SWANSON, the silent-film actress, in Chicago, 1899. She was born Gloria May Svensson and broke into films when she was 14, as an extra in a crowd scene. She moved to Hollywood and Cecil B. DeMille made her famous in the 20s with a string of silent pictures where she played the thin, glamorous heroine. She didn't care much for the talking pictures when they started in the late 20s, so she got out of movies and began several businesses in clothes and cosmetics. In 1950 she made a comeback as the aging silent-screen star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, who complains about talkies with lines like, "Who needed sound? We had faces, then."

It's the birthday of photographer EDWARD STEICHEN, born in Luxembourg, 1879, who along with Alfred Steiglitz brought photography into the modern era and made it an art form. His family moved to Milwaukee when he was a boy and he studied painting, and when he started taking pictures he would often brush silver salts and other chemicals on to the photograph to create special effects. In 1902 he and Steiglitz founded a group called the Photo-Secession, dedicated to promoting photography as not just a hobby or a craft, but an art. One of his biggest achievements was to mount a photo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York called "The Family of Man." He collected over two million photos from around the world and selected 503 of them for the exhibit. It opened in New York in 1955 and then toured most of the major museums in the world where some nine million people saw it.

It's the birthday of the man who discovered X rays, WILHELM RÖNTGEN, born in Remscheid, Germany in 1845. He was working in his lab in 1895 in the city of Würzberg, Germany, when he found that every time he put an electrical current through a particular glass tube, a barium chemical gave off light from across the room. He kept tinkering with the tube and found that if he placed a piece of paper or wood between it and the chemical that it made no difference - the chemical still glowed. He didn't know what it was, so he called it "X-radiation." The first X ray photographs he made were of his wife's hand. He was the first to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1901.

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »