Aug. 5, 1998


Today's Reading: Section V from the longer poem titled "1994" by Wendell Berry from TIMBERED CHOIR, published by Counterpoint (1998).

It's writer WENDELL BERRY's birthday, born in 1934, in Henry County in north-central Kentucky, northeast of Louisville. After teaching at Stanford and in New York, he went back in 1964 to farm the hill country where he was born. He taught for a time at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, writing poetry, essays, novels and agriculture books, then left the University in 1977 to farm and write full-time. Some of his poetry collections include The Broken Ground (1964); Farming, A Hand Book (1970), and The Country of Marriage (1973). Berry's most recent book came out in April, A Timbered Choir, 20 years' worth of poems written after Sunday-morning walks across his fields in Kentucky.

It's the birthday in 1908 of the naturalist, scientist, and writer, MIRIAM ROTHSCHILD, born near Peterborough, England. She stumbled onto the natural sciences when she was a teenager and her brother and she dissected a frog. She said, "I had never before seen fresh, internal organs, blood vessels, and nerves. Their extreme beauty was a revelation, my road to Damascus." She went on to make important discoveries in marine biology, chemistry, horticulture, and zoology, but is best known now as the world's leading expert on fleas.

It's the birthday in Nevada, Missouri, 1906, of director JOHN HUSTON, who made Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), The African Queen (1952), and The Man Who Would Be King (1975). He was a jack-of-all-trades as a young man: by the time he was 25 years old he'd boxed professionally, been a soldier in the Mexican cavalry, a reporter, an actor, and had written short stories and plays. His first shot at directing came when he was 35, when he made The Maltese Falcon.

It's the birthday in Savannah, Georgia, 1889, of poet CONRAD AIKEN who, just before he died in 1973, wrote: "In eighteen hundred and eighty nine/Conrad Aiken crossed the line./In nineteen hundred and question mark/Aiken's windowpane was dark/But in between, o in between the things he'd seen!" He was raised in Savannah, but then sent when he was 11 years old to live with relatives in New England after his parents were killed in a murder-suicide. He went to Harvard, became friends with classmate T.S. Eliot, then lived off and on in England for decades, writing five novels, an autobiography, volumes of short stories and criticism; and 35 books of poetry, for which he won the 1930 Pulitzer Prize.

It was on this day in 1850 that the two authors NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE and HERMAN MELVILLE met for the first time, on a hike in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts. The story goes that their hiking party got caught in a thunderstorm halfway up Monument Mountain, and the two men talked books while waiting out the storm in the shelter of some rocks. Hawthorne was 46 years old and had just written The Scarlet Letter; Melville was 31 and part way through writing Moby Dick. They became great friends.

It's the birthday in Dieppe (dyep), France, 1850, of GUY DE MAUPASSANT, the man who the French consider their greatest short-story writer. He wrote over 300 of them before his death in an asylum at 42, as well as six novels, three travel books, and a collection of poetry.

It's the baptismal day in 1604 of JOHN ELIOT, the preacher who came to be known as the "Apostle to the Indians," born in Hertfordshire, England, 1604. He landed in Boston in his late 20s and he was invited to pastor a Puritan congregation in nearby Roxbury, which he did for 60 years. He taught himself how to speak Natick, the language of the Algonquin Indians, and in 1650 he began translating the Bible into Natick. Thirteen years later, in 1663, Eliot came out with the Natick Bible, the first Bible of any kind printed in North America.

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