Aug. 24, 1998


by Harvey Shapiro


Today's Reading: "Italy" by Harvey Shapiro from SELECTED POEMS, published by Wesleyan University Press (1997).

It's the birthday in Sheffield, England, 1936, of novelist A.S. BYATT, author of Possession which won Britain's Booker Prize in 1991, the story of two academics and their research into the lives of a pair of Victorian poets. Her most recent book came out last fall, a collection of fairy tales called The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye.

It's the birthday of ALICE SHELDON, the science fiction writer who signed her works, JAMES TRIPTREE, JR. — born this day in Chicago, 1915. She served in Air Force Intelligence right after W.W.II and then at the CIA where she did photo intelligence work while beginning to write. She was best known as a short-story writer, the author of several collections, including Ten Thousand Light Years from Home (1973), and Warm Worlds (1975).

It's the birthday in 1899, Buenos Aires, of the Argentinean poet and short-story writer JORGE LUIS BORGES, author of The Aleph and Other Stories, Labyrinths, and A Universal History of Infamy. These were mostly published in the early '60s, right around the time Borges was going blind from a congenital eye disease.

It's the birthday in Roseau, West Indies, 1890, of novelist JEAN RHYS, author of Wide Sargasso Sea, which came out in 1966. She moved to Europe when she was young, and worked as a dancer, model, chorus girl. In the 1920s and '30s she became famous for a series of short stories and novels about bohemian life in Paris including The Left Bank and Good Morning, Midnight.

It was on this day in 1814, that BRITISH TROOPS INVADED WASHINGTON, D.C. This was in the closing months of the War of 1812. The Americans had had some early naval successes in the War, but by summer, 1814, the British had the East coast blockaded, and controlled the Great Lakes and most of the Mississippi River. The Americans had burned several British government buildings in Toronto, so in retaliation, the British stormed up Chesapeake Bay into Washington and burned the White House, the Capitol, and most of the public buildings.

It's the birthday of poet ROBERT HERRICK, born in London, 1591, best known as author of..."Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/Old Time is still a-flying,/And this same flower that smiles to-day/To-morrow will be dying." Herrick was a preacher but became famous as a poet in his 30s for writing short lyrics that composers of the day set to music. He wrote over 1,400 of them.

It was on this day in 1572 that thousands of French Huguenots were murdered in Paris, an event that became known as the ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S DAY MASSACRE. The Huguenots were Protestants and there'd been constant strife between them and the Catholic monarchy over the years. The massacre was triggered when the king's mother, Catherine of Medici, feared that the Protestants were gaining too much influence over her son, Charles IX. Huguenot leaders were in Paris for a royal wedding, and she ordered them all killed. The massacre began when the church bells tolled dawn on August 24, but then it spread to Protestant shop owners in Paris, and even though a royal decree went out the next day for it to stop, the massacre continued out into the countryside, and some estimates of the number of dead range as high as 70,000.

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