Oct. 14, 2001

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Poem: "13," by E. E. Cummings from 100 Selected Poems (Grove Weidenfeld).


who knows if the moon's
a balloon,coming out of a keen city
in the sky—filled with pretty people?
(and if you and i should

get into it,if they
should take me and take you into their balloon,
why then
we'd go up higher with all the pretty people

than houses and steeples and clouds:
go sailing
away and away sailing into a keen
city which nobody's ever visited,where

        Spring) and everyone's
in love and flowers pick themselves

It's the birthday of poet, essayist and feminist Katha Pollitt, born in New York City, New York (1949). Her verse was collected in a book called Antarctic Traveler in 1982, and it won the National Book Critics' Circle Award for best poetry. Since 1982, she has been affiliated with the liberal magazine The Nation, first as its literary editor, then as a contributing editor, and finally as associate editor.

It's the birthday of poet E(dward) E(stlin) Cummings, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894), who became one of the most popular and most frequently anthologized poets of the 20th century. His poetry was known not only for its biting sarcasm and satire, but also for its experimentation with form, punctuation, spelling, and syntax. Cummings was a painter as well as a poet, and he included elements of visual arts in his writing. He said, "To be nobody but myself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting."

It's the birthday of short story writer Katherine Mansfield, born in Wellington, New Zealand, (1888), whose given name was Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp. A provocative figure in literature and in life, her motto in life was "risk, risk everything," and she once said, "I believe the greatest failing of all is to be frightened." At the age of 19, she left New Zealand to establish herself as a writer in England. While still in school, she had love affairs with both men and women, but fell in love with musician Garnet Trowell. While pregnant with his child, she married George Bowden, but left him on their wedding night and returned to Trowell. Her first book was a collection of stories called In a German Pension (1919). Shortly after its publication, Mansfield met John Middleton Murry, then editor of an obscure literary magazine, Rhythm. Mansfield at first became his assistant, then his lover, and the two were married after her divorce from Bowden was finalized. In 1915, Mansfield was visited in London by her brother Leslie. One month later he was killed in an accident. This devastated her, and she said she felt that "... nothing can ever be the same [again]." His death also influenced her to write about their childhood in New Zealand. This resulted in a 1918 story called "Prelude," which was eventually printed in the 1920 collection Bliss, and Other Stories. The autobiographical story changed the notion of what a story could be. It was essentially without plot; it simply set out to show the thoughts and feelings of a New Zealand family as they move from the town to the country. In 1922, Mansfield published her third collection, The Garden Party, and Other Stories, for which she is most famous. Mansfield died in 1923 from tuberculosis.

It's the birthday of religious advocate and Quaker William Penn, born in London, England, (1644). Brought up a Protestant, Penn became interested in Quakers in 1656, at the age of 12. Quakers emphasize a direct relationship with God, and believe that it is the individual's conscience, not the Bible, that is the ultimate authority on morals. In 1681, Penn convinced King Charles II to grant him a charter to establish an American colony, which became Pennsylvania. In 1682, he wrote the First Frame of Government, which anticipated the ideas in the Declaration of Independence. The document provided for secure private property, free enterprise, a free press, trial by jury, and religious tolerance.

In 1066 on this day, William the Conqueror defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings. In September of 1066, William, Duke of Normandy, left France with 600 ships and up to 10,000 men. He disembarked at Pevensy in Sussex, and moved along the coast to Hastings. Meanwhile, in the north of England, Harold II was fighting off his brother and an army of Vikings. When he heard of William's invasion, he hurried his bedraggled army south, to a ridge about 10 miles northeast of Hastings. William sent his army to attack, archers in front, infantrymen behind, and knights in the rear. Although the Normans suffered many early casualties, they feigned retreat twice, luring the Englishmen from their positions. They then turned and annihilated them. When Harold was killed, the leaderless army fought on for a while, then scattered. The victorious Normans moved on to London, where William I was crowned king on December 25.

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