Apr. 16, 2001

o sweet and spontaneous earth

by E. E. Cummings

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Poem: "o sweet spontaneous," by E. E. Cummings, from 100 Selected Poems (Grove Weidenfeld).

o sweet spontaneous

O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have

      fingers of
prurient philosophers pinched

,has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

      beauty        how
often have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy

      thou answerest


them only with


It's the birthday of the poet and novelist Sir Kingsley Amis, born in London (1922). He wrote dozens of books, but had the misfortune to have been far more successful with his first novel, Lucky Jim (1954), than with anything that came later. Lucky Jim Dixon was so popular that his name became a household term throughout the U.K.

It's the birthday of investigative journalist Clark Mollenhoff, born in Burnside, Iowa (1921). Identified mostly with the Des Moines Register and Tribune, Mollenhoff won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 for his investigative reports on labor racketeering that later became the book Tentacles of Power: The Story of Jimmy Hoffa (1965).

It's the birthday of Charlie Chaplin, born in South London (1889). His stage career began at age five when his actress mother lost her singing voice, and the stage manager led little Charlie out to sing in her place. As a boy, he passed in and out of orphanages, and he started working with a touring company as an actor at the age of 12. Twelve years later, he went off to Hollywood to make comedy shorts for Mack Sennet. By the time he made his second one, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), he had settled on the costume: baggy trousers, oversized shoes, tight frock coat, derby hat, cane, and false mustache. Within two years, he was the highest paid entertainer in the world.

It's the birthday of aviator Wilbur Wright, born near Millville, Indiana (1867). On December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, he made the first sustained flight of a self-propelled plane: 852 feet in 59 seconds..

It's the birthday of Irish playwright John Millington Synge, born in Rathfarnham, a suburb of Dublin (1871), the youngest of eight children. After graduating from Trinity College when he was 21, he wandered around Europe and settled in Paris, where he met William Butler Yeats, who became his mentor. The older poet urged him to stop writing scholarly essays and visit the Aran Islands on the west of Ireland to draw his material from life. His most notable play was The Playboy of the Western World (1907). He died young, at the age of 38, of lymphatic cancer.

It is the birthday of physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660), born in County Down, Northern Ireland. He spent a lifetime collecting plants, animals, fossils, and antiquities from around the world. His collections, works of art, valuable coins, and over 50,000 books were all left to the city of London when he died, and the bequest was the beginning of the British Museum.

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