Mar. 10, 2001

The Prelude (excerpt)

by William Wordsworth

SATURDAY, 10 March 2001
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Poem: from "The Prelude," by William Wordsworth.

From "The Prelude"

When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign is Solitude!
How potent a mere image of her sway!
Most potent when impressed upon the mind
With an appropriate human centre — Hermit
Deep in the bosom of the Wilderness;
Votary (in vast Cathedral, where no foot
Is treading and no other face is seen)
Kneeling at prayer; or Watchman on the top
Of Lighthouse beaten by Atlantic Waves;
Or as the soul of that great Power is met
Sometimes embodied on a public road,
When, for the night deserted, it assumes
A character of quiet more profound
Than pathless Wastes

On this day in 1949, a fire swept the main building of the Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina. Ten women — mental patients — were locked on the top floor and died in the flames. One of them was Zelda Fitzgerald, the 47 years old widow of  F. Scott Fitzgerald, who had died of a heart attack in Hollywood 9 years earlier.

It's the birthday of playwright David Rabe, born in Dubuque, Iowa (1940).  His experiences in a medical unit in Vietnam prompted some of his early plays, including The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel (1971), and Sticks and Bones (1971).  Later plays include Hurlyburly (1984), Goose and Tom-Tom (1986), and his most recent, A Question of Mercy (1998).

It's the birthday of writer Hugh Nissenson, born in Brooklyn (1933).  He's best known for his short stories, and for his novel, The Tree of Life (1985) — a mixed-media diary of an early-19th-century Ohio frontiersman named Thomas Keene.

It's the birthday of 'absurdist' writer Boris Vian, born in Paris (1920). His play The General's Tea Party (1962) ends with all the main characters losing one by one at Russian roulette.

It's the birthday of journalist Heywood Hale Broun, born in New York City (1918), author of the memoir Whose Little Boy Are You? (1983).

It's the birthday of jazz cornettist (Leon Bismarck) "Bix" Beiderbecke, born in Davenport, Iowa (1903).  As a young boy, he heard black jazz players — including Louis Armstrong — on Mississippi riverboats passing his town, and playing jazz became his great passion.  His parents sent him to a Chicago military academy, trying to get the music off his mind, but it was the worst possible place to have chosen: Chicago's south side was the new music's hotbed.  Beiderbecke's first recordings were made in 1924 — he was 21 — with a white group from Ohio called the Wolverines.  Two years later, he joined the Jean Goldkette band; a year after that, he moved to the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.  He played with Whiteman, off and on, until he drank himself to death 4 years later: he died alone, in a New York rooming house, at the age of 28.  He achieved posthumous fame 7 years after his death with the publication of Dorothy Baker's novel, Young Man with a Horn (1938). Although he'd sent many of his records back to his disapproving parents in Davenport, so far as anyone knows neither his mother nor his father never listened to any of them.

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