Oct. 15, 2001

Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

by William Shakespeare

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Poem: "Sonnet 30," by William Shakespeare.

Sonnet 30 When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
   But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
   All losses are restored and sorrows end.

It's the birthday of many writers, including John Kenneth Galbraith, born in 1908 in Iona Station, Ontario; C.P. Snow, born 1905 in Leicester, England; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.; in Columbus, Ohio, 1917; the Godfather novelist, Mario Puzo, in New York, 1920; the Italian novelist Italo Calvino, in Cuba, 1923; the Portuguese novelist Maria Agustina Bessa Luis, in Vila Mea, 1922; and the French philosopher Michel Foucault, in Paris, 1926.

It's the birthday, in 70 B.C., near Mantua, Italy, of Publius Vergilius Maro—the poet Virgil, a contemporary of Horace and Ovid. He was born to humble parentage: His father was a common laborer, but one whose industriousness and intelligence impressed his boss, and he married the boss's daughter, and thus was able to give his son a good education. The boy was shy and of fragile health, and he stammered, but he could write. He wrote the Eclogues, all about shepherds and idealized romance, and the Georgics, about farming, horticulture, bee-keeping, raising cattle. Then he wrote his masterpiece, the Aeneid, modeled after the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer, 10,000 lines on the founding of Rome by Aeneas. Virgil worked on the poem for 11 years, died with it unfinished, at the age of 51, and left instructions for it to be burned, but the emperor Augustus countermanded and it appeared, edited, two years later.

It's the birthday of Friedrich Nietzsche, in 1844, in Saxony, where his father was a Lutheran pastor. Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, in which the hero declares that Christianity is decadent because God is dead and so man must find a purpose for his own existence in a world that is indifferent to him, and this purpose is domination and mastery—of one's self, controlling one's passions, achieving personal style, molding one's own character and thus releasing a flood of creative energy.

It's the birthday, in 1881, in Surrey, of P.G. Wodehouse, author of almost 100 books in his long life. His books included stories about the young bachelor Bertie Wooster and his manservant Jeeves and the Drones Club, Lord Emsworth who raised pigs and pumpkins, characters named Puffy Benger, Galahad Threepwood, Hermione Brimble, and Sir Roderick Glossop, and books written in perky slangy English, the plots highly contrived and carefully constructed. Wodehouse said, "From my earliest years I had always wanted to be a writer .... It was not that I had any particular message for humanity. I just wanted to write and was prepared to write anything that had a chance of getting printed." He also wrote lyrics for operettas and Broadway shows by Gershwin, Lehar, Romberg, and Victor Herbert.

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