May 1, 2001
To a Singer
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Poem: "To A Singer," by Percy Bysshe Shelley.
To A Singer
My soul is an enchanted boat,
Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float
Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing;
And thine doth like an angel sit
Beside a helm conducting it,
Whilst all the winds with melody are ringing.
It seems to float ever, forever,
Upon that many-winding river,
Between mountains, woods, abysses,
A paradise of wildernesses!
Till, like one in slumber bound,
Borne to the ocean, I float down, around,
Into a sea profound, of ever-spreading sound.
Meanwhile thy spirit lifts its pinions
In music's most serene dominions;
Catching the winds that fan that happy heaven.
And we sail on, away, afar,
Without a course, without a star,
But by the instinct of sweet music driven;
Till through Elysian garden islets
By thee, most beautiful of pilots,
Where never mortal pinnace glided,
The boat of my desire is guided;
Realms where the air we breathe is love,
Which in the winds on the waves doth move,
Harmonizing this earth with what we feel above.
Today is May Day, one of the oldest holidays on the calendar. The ancient Romans celebrated it with a festival of thanksgiving to the flower goddess, Flora - they scattered flower petals in the streets. The Celts built bonfires to ward off evil spirits. In medieval England, whole villages would turn out to go "a-maying," paying homage to their local May Queen, and dancing around a maypole. Women rose before sunrise to wash their faces with dew, which they believed would beautify their skin.
It's the birthday of writer Bobbie Ann Mason, born in Mayfield, Kentucky (1940). She wrote her doctoral dissertation on Vladimir Nabokov. By the time she finished it, she said, "I was so sick of reading about the alienated hero of superior sensibility that I thought I would write about just the opposite." She set out to write about rural western Kentucky, and the farmers and workers living there. Her first book was Shiloh and Other Stories (1981); her other books include Feather Crowns (1993), and Clear Springs (1999), a memoir.
It's the birthday of novelist Joseph Heller, born in Coney Island, Brooklyn (1923). He was a bombardier in World War II, and he drew on that experience in the writing of his great novel Catch-22 (1961). Word of mouth made it a cult favorite, and then the nation's growing opposition to the Vietnam War made it a success. It was a dark, funny book about the craziness of war. When someone told him that he had never written anything as good as Catch-22, he replied, "Who has?"
It's the birthday of writer Niccolò Tucci, born in Lugano, Switzerland (1908). He wrote stories for The New Yorker magazine, and three autobiographical novels in English, including Before My Time (1962) and The Sun and the Moon (1971). He also edited a collection of Italian fairy tales.
It's the birthday of French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, born near Auvergne (1881). He entered the Jesuit order, was ordained (1911), and received a doctorate in paleontology from the Sorbonne (1922). He's best known for his book The Phenomenon of Man (1955; translated into English 1959).
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