Mar. 14, 2001


by Oscar Wilde

WEDNESDAY, 14 March 2001
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Poem: "Requiescat," by Oscar Wilde, from The Portable Oscar Wilde (Penguin Books).

Tread lightly, she is near
    Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
    The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
    Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
    Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
    She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
    Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
    Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone
    She is at rest.

Peace, peace, she cannot hear
    Lyre or sonnet
All my life's buried here,
    Heap earth upon it.

On this day in 1939, John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath was published—the story of the Joad family, farmers from Oklahoma, who leave the Dust Bowl for a new life in California. The hero of the book, Tom Joad, gives this speech:

"Well, maybe like Casy says, a fellow ain't got a soul of his own, but only a piece of a big one... Then it don't matter. Then I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be everywhere, wherever you look. Wherever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there."

It's the birthday of novelist John Wain, born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England (1925)—one of Britain's 'Angry Young Men' of the 1950s. His first novel was Hurry on Down (1953).

It's the birthday of playwright Horton Foote, born in Wharton, Texas (1916)—author of many plays set in the fictional town of Harrison, Texas. They include Wharton Dance (1940), The Trip to Bountiful (1953), The Traveling Lady (1954), and The Road to the Graveyard (1985).

It's the birthday of bookseller Sylvia Beach, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1887), the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. She fell in love with France at the age of 14 when her father was sent to Paris to preach to American students. In her thirties she founded the Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare & Company (1919), at number 12, rue de l'Odeon—a store that sold English-language books. Besides selling books, Beach also published them: she brought out the first edition of James Joyce's Ulysses in 1922. The store was shut down by the Nazis in 1941.

In 1885 on this date, Gilbert and Sullivan's opera The Mikado had its London premiere, opening with Nanki-Poo's famous song: "A wandering minstrel I—/ A thing of shreds and patches/ Of ballads, songs and snatches/ And dreamy lullaby..."

Karl Marx died on this day in 1883, in London. London had been his home since 1849, after he'd been expelled from his native Prussia, then from France and then Belgium. In England he lived in poverty, spending his days reading and writing at the British Museum and publishing the first volume of Das Kapital.

It's the birthday of Albert Einstein, born in Ulm, Germany (1879). Inspired by his Uncle Jakob, he took up mathematics, but was at best a mediocre student. Later, while working as an examiner in the Swiss Patents Office, he wrote scientific papers in his spare time: first he published his "Special Theory of Relativity" (1905); and then his "General Theory of Relativity" (1916).

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