May 31, 2000

When I Heard at the Close of the Day

by Walt Whitman

Broadcast Date: WEDNESDAY: May 31, 2000

Poem: "When I Heard at the Close of the Day," by Walt Whitman (1819-1892).

It's the birthday of writer Al Young, born in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, 1939. When he was still a boy his family moved to Detroit, and Young started playing jazz flute and guitar, then worked as a DeeJay at a California jazz station. Most of his novels and poetry collections center on jazz: his first book was a poetry collection called Dancing (1969); he followed it up a year later with the novel Snakes (1970).

It was on this day in 1907 that taxis arrived in New York City. France had been using taxis already for a few years, and New York's first cabs came from Paris.

It's the birthday of writer Norman Vincent Peale, born in Bowersville, Ohio in 1898. He's best known for The Power of Positive Thinking, which was a huge bestseller in 1952.

It's the birthday of children's author Elizabeth Coatsworth, born in Buffalo, New York, 1893. Her third book, The Cat Who Went to Heaven (1930), won the Newbery Prize for children's literature, and she went on to write about 100 more, publishing three or four titles a year, mostly nature stories, or stories about growing up in rural New England.

It's the birthday in West Hills, Long Island, 1819, of Walt Whitman. He grew up in Brooklyn and at age 12 began to learn the printing trade. Over time he moved from printing to teaching to journalism, failing at nearly everything he tried, before he started experimenting with a new form of poetry, free of a regular rhythm or rhyme scheme, which has come to be known as 'free verse.' In 1855, Whitman published, anonymously and at his own expense, the first edition of Leaves of Grass. It began:

My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Whitman was to revise Leaves of Grass continually for the rest of his life. In later editions it was well over 400 pages long the ninth appeared in 1892, the year of his death. He was a great publicist for his own work; after that first edition came out, he sent the New York Tribune a glowing letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson hailing Leaves of Grass as "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed" and had the paper publish the letter without Emerson's permission.

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