Dec. 20, 2000

Ave Maria Gratia Plena

by Oscar Wilde

Broadcast date: WEDNESDAY, 20 December 2000

Poem: “Ave Maria Gratia Plena,” by Oscar Wilde.

Ave Maria Gratia Plena
Was this His coming! I had hoped to see
A scene of wondrous glory, as was told
Of some great God who in a rain of gold
Broke open bars and fell on Danae:
Or a dread Vision as when Semele
Sickening for love and unappeased desire
prayed to see God's clear body, and the fire
Caught her brown limbs and slew her utterly:
With such glad dreams I sought this holy place,
And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand
Before this supreme mystery of Love:
Some kneeling girl with passionless pale face,
An angel with a lily in his hand,
And over both the white wings of a Dove.

On this day in 1985, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill establishing a Poet Laureate for the United States. The first laureate, named in 1986, was Robert Penn Warren. The current Poet Laureate is Stanley Kunitz.

In 1957 on this day, 23-year-old Elvis Presley got his induction papers to become a private in the U.S. army.

It’s the birthday of fiction writer Hortense Calisher, born in New York City (1911)—who wrote almost exclusively about New York, where she grew up and lived her entire life. She wrote novels, but is most highly regarded for her short stories, which began appearing in The New Yorker in the 1940s. She once said that the action of a short story is “an apocalypse served in a very small cup.” Her stories tend to inject shocks into a deceptively cool narrative: in one, at a posh dinner table the women all suddenly remove their blouses; in another, a bald woman discards her wig while embracing her lover—then is shunned for her honesty. Some of Calisher’s many novels are False Entry (1961), Queenie (1971), and Age (1987); her story collections include In the Absence of Angels (1951) and The Collected Stories of Hortense Calisher (1975).

It's the birthday of Irish nationalist Maud Gonne, born near Aldershot, England (1865) and brought to Ireland at a young age by her father, a British colonel. She was glamorous, upper-class, and legendarily beautiful—six feet tall, with cascading red hair. Poet William Butler Yeats met Gonne, by then an actress, in 1891, through the Young Irish Theatre movement he had started. Falling in love, he described her "With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind / That is not natural in an age like this." Yeats stayed a virgin until he was 31 in the hope that she would marry him. She refused his many proposals, preferring to focus all her passion on the cause of Irish independence. She campaigned for land reform, helped tenants fight eviction, advocated for political prisoners, began a program that fed lunch to Dublin school kids, and founded the Daughters of Erin. Yeats wrote a play for her, Cathleen ni Houlihan, in which Gonne played the title role.

On this day in 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. South Carolina suffered badly during the War: 65 percent of the state's men were killed or wounded and much of its land was burned to the ground during General Sherman's march.

On this day in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed. A ceremony in New Orleans took down the flag of France and raised the flag of the United States to symbolize the official transfer, which included most of the land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. The purchase doubled the size of America.

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