Oct. 10, 2001

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Poem: simply labeled, "9," by Galway Kinnell from A New Selected Poems: Galway Kinnell (Houghton Mifflin).


When one has lived a long time alone,
and the hermit thrush calls and there is an answer,
and the bullfrog head half out of water utters
the cantillations he sang in his first spring,
and the snake lowers himself over the threshold
and creeps away among the stones, one sees
they all live to mate with their kind, and one knows,
after a long time of solitude, after the many steps taken
away from one's kind, toward these other kingdoms,
the hard prayer inside one's own singing
is to come back, if one can, to one's own,
a world almost lost, in the exile that deepens,
when one has lived a long time alone.

It's the birthday of playwright Harold Pinter, born in London, England (1930). In 1957, a friend asked Pinter to write a play for the Drama Department at Bristol University. In four days, he wrote a one-act play called The Room. That play, and his next one, The Dumb Waiter (1957) are characteristic of all his plays—commonplace situations that are invested with menace and mystery. In 1958, Pinter's first full-length play, The Birthday Party, was produced. Pinter will not say what his works are about. "Once," he said, "many years ago ... someone asked me what my work was 'about.' I replied with no thought at all and merely to frustrate this line of iniquity: 'the weasel under the cocktail cabinet.' That was a great mistake. Over the years I have seen that remark quoted in a number of learned columns. It has now seemingly acquired profound significance, and is seen to be a highly relevant and meaningful observation about my own work. But for me the remark meant precisely nothing."

It's the birthday of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (1917), who began playing in bands when he was 13 years old. By the 1930s, Monk had moved to Harlem, and had a steady job at Minton's Playhouse, where such then unknown musicians as Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie came to jam. Out of this group came a new kind of jazz, called bebop.

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer R.K.(Rasipuram Krishnaswami) Narayan, born in Madras, India (1906), who was one of the first Indians writing in English to achieve international acclaim. Narayan's first book was Swami and Friends (1935), which, like many of this other books, is set in a fictional town of Malgudi. Narayan wrote hundreds of short stories, and more than 30 novels, including The English Teacher (1945), Waiting for the Mahatma (1955), The Guide (1958), and The Vendor of Sweets (1967). He died at the age of 94 in May of 2001.

It's the birthday of opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, born in Rancola, Italy (1813). A musical prodigy, he became a church organist at the age of seven. Verdi became extremely popular, commanding higher fees than any other composers of his time. Within the next 10 years, Verdi produced three masterpieces: Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853), and La Traviata (1853).

It's the birthday of physicist and chemist Henry Cavendish, born in Nice, France (1731). Although he studied at Cambridge, he never got his degree. Instead, he went to work assisting his father, a scientist in his own right. At the age of 40, Cavendish inherited a fortune, although it did little to change his lifestyle. He spent most of his money on scientific apparatus and books. His experiments and discoveries were quite diverse. In 1784, he discovered that water is not an element, but a compound. He also discovered nitric acid. He conducted early experiments in electrical currents, and also discovered the properties of hydrogen.

In 1935 on this day, Porgy and Bess opened in New York. In 1926, George Gershwin read the book Porgy by DuBose Heyward, about the black inhabitants of Catfish Row, a slum neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1886 this day, the tuxedo jacket made its debut in the United States. The tail-less dress coat, first introduced in England, was worn for the first time in America at the Tuxedo Club in New York. Most of the guests at the club were shocked by its informality, but the tuxedo jacket eventually became more popular than the tailcoat, and remains so today.

In 1845 on this day, the United States Naval Academy opened in Annapolis, Maryland. The Naval school was established with a class of 50 midshipmen and seven professors.

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