Jan. 3, 2001

The Sailor

by Geof Hewitt

Broadcast date: WEDNESDAY, 3 January 2001

Poem: "The Sailor," by Geof Hewitt, from Only What's Imagined (Kumquat Press).

The Sailor

In my movie the boat goes under
And he alone survives the night in the cold ocean,
Swimming he hopes in a shoreward direction.
Daylight and he's still afloat, pawing the water
And doesn't yet know he's only fifty feet from shore.
He goes under for what will be the last time
But only a few feet down scrapes bottom.
He's suddenly a changed man and half hops, half swims
The remaining distance, hauls himself waterlogged
Partway up the beach before collapsing into sleep.
As he dreams the tide comes in
And rolls him back to sea.

It's the birthday of comedian and pianist Victor Borge, born in Copenhagen, Denmark (1909), who died on the 23rd of December at the age of 91. He was born Borge Rosenbaum, youngest of the five sons of Bernhard Rosenbaum, a violinist with Royal Danish Symphony. As a young man he studied piano seriously, but then made his career in Denmark in the 30s as a comedian, a pianist on the radio, and as a director of stage shows. With the rise of the Nazis in Germany, he began to do satirical material about them; he made the joke, "What is the difference between a Nazi and a dog? A Nazi lifts his arm." He was performing in Sweden at the time of the German invasion of Denmark. He escaped first to Finland, and then to the U.S., with very little English at his disposal. He learned English by sitting through Bing Crosby movies over and over. He performed in the U.S. for the first time on Crosby's radio show in 1941. In 1953, against the advice of his friends, he opened a one-man show on Broadway: "Comedy in Music." It ran for 849 performances—nearly three years.

It's the birthday of astronomer William Wilson Morgan, born in Bethesda, Tennessee (1906). He developed his own system for classifying stars, and used his findings to prove the long-held belief that our Galaxy is spiral-shaped, and mapped, for the first time, the nearest parts of its spiral arms.

It's the birthday of J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel) Tolkien, born in Bloemfontein, South Africa (1892). His father died when he was four, and as a small child Tolkien's mother brought him back to grow up in England. He showed remarkable gifts for languages, learning Latin, Greek, and a number of other ancient and modern languages. He went to Exeter College in Oxford, and immersed himself in the Classics. Later, while teaching at Oxford, he wrote one day across a blank page, "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit." Out of this grew a story he told his children and started passing around. In 1936, an incomplete typescript came into the hands of a publisher, who asked Tolkien to finish it. The Hobbit was an immediate success when it was published in 1937, and has been on children's recommended reading lists ever since.

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