Oct. 14, 1999

To A Lady Asking Him How Long He Would Love Her

by Sir George Etherege

Broadcast Date: THURSDAY: October 14, 1999

Poem: "To A Lady Asking Him How Long He Would Love Her" by Sir George Etherege from The Seashell Anthology of Great Poetry, edited by Christopher Burns.

It's the birthday of poet E(dward) E(stlin) Cummings, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894), who claimed that most people were not really alive but "merely undead." To avoid being undead, he said, one had to be an individual. His unique word-meanings, his eccentric typography and spellings, were expressions of his individuality. He grew up in a warm extended family—parents, little sister, two grandmothers, an unmarried aunt, a bachelor uncle—plus two servant girls and a handyman who were also treated as family. His father, a Congregational minister and former Harvard English professor, took him to Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, and built him a tree house complete with a small stove for popping corn and roasting marshmallows. His mother read him Dickens and hoped he would grow up to be a poet like Cambridge's earlier resident, Longfellow. From the time he was a little boy, she encouraged him to keep a journal and write verses. Always good at drawing, he began painting while a Harvard student, and never stopped—which explains the importance he put on having his poems particularly placed on the page. He loved playing with typography (very few capital letters; none in his own name) and used punctuation marks for special effects.

It's the birthday of soldier and politician Dwight David Eisenhower, born in Denison, Texas (1890), the third of seven sons (one died in infancy). From age 2, he grew up in small-town Abilene, Kansas, which didn't have a paved street until 1910, the year after he graduated from high school. He and his brothers took turns getting up at dawn to build the kitchen fire and start breakfast. They tended the chickens and the garden; they milked the cow, sold farm products from door to door, and sometimes worked at the creamery with their father. "Ike," as he was called, learned the ethic of hard farm work and strong Mennonite religion (but was not baptized until after he took office as President). He was a fun-loving boy and a good athlete, but didn't push himself hard in classwork—at West Point, in a graduating class of 164, he ranked 61st in academics and 125th in discipline. His slow advancement in the Army gave no hint of future greatness. His turning point came after home-front service during World War One and a stint in the Panama Canal Zone, when he was sent to the army's command and general staff school at Fort Leavenworth. By now 35 years old, he graduated first of a class of 275—and was noticed by General Douglas MacArthur, who made him his top aide in the Philippines. He returned stateside at the outbreak of World War Two, and 2 months after Pearl Harbor was chosen by General George Marshall—over 366 senior officers—to command U.S. troops in Europe, where his gifts for planning and organization, and for getting along with others, were soon on display. An incident that made him popular with the British came when an American colonel quarreled with a British general. Eisenhower told the American, "I think you were right in the argument. You called the general a so-and-so, and I can understand that, too—but unfortunately you called him a British so-and-so, and for that I'm sending you home." He made two of his toughest wartime decisions, he wrote later (Crusade in Europe, 1948), in the hours preceding D-Day's Channel crossing. First, he was strongly advised against dropping the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions onto the Cherbourg Peninsula in the hours just before the beach landings; aides predicted the paratroopers would be slaughtered. But Eisenhower decided to take the gamble. His second tough choice was deciding when to send the invasion. Originally scheduled for June 5, 1944, it had already been delayed one day because of foul weather. He was urged to delay it another day, but guessed—correctly—that there would be a slight break in the weather. Infantrymen were violently seasick during the crossing but were able to stagger and crawl ashore.

It's the birthday of short story writer Katheri ne Mansfield (the pen name of Kathleen Beauchamp Murry), born in Wellington, New Zealand (1888). Virginia Woolf said her work was "the only writing I have ever been jealous of." Her 34-year life, cut short by tuberculosis, was a tumultuous one.

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