Oct. 22, 2001


by Galway Kinnell

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


On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

On this day in 1964, French Existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre refused the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He declined the prize because, he said, "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution."

It's the birthday of British novelist Doris May Lessing, born in Kermanshah, Iran (1919).  She was born in Iran while her father was serving as a captain in the British army, and later moved with her family to Rhodesia, where she lived until she settled in England in 1949.  Rhodesia was the setting of her first novel, The Grass is Singing (1950), about a white farm family and their African servant.  She's best known for her novel The Golden Notebook (1962). She's also known for her science-fiction series Canopus in Argos (1979-1983).  She said: "In the writing process, the more a story cooks, the better."

It's the birthday of American geneticist George Wells Beadle, born in Wahoo, Nebraska (1903).  While working with fruit flies and bread mold he discovered that genes influence heredity by triggering the production of specific enzymes. One of the important practical results of his research was to make possible a massive increase the production of penicillin.

On this date in 1883, the Metropolitan Opera opened in New York City, with a performance of Gounod's Faust, starring the great Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson as Marguerite.

It's the birthday of American illustrator (Newell Convers) N.C. Wyeth, born in Needham, Massachusetts (1882). As a young man, he became a student of the illustrator Howard Pyle, in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania, where he later settled down.  His first professional illustration was a cover for the Saturday Evening Post on February 21, 1903.  The illustration was of a bucking bronco, and Wyeth was pegged as a Western artist.  Eventually, however, he became more famous for his illustrations for the Scribner Illustrated Classics series, including Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1911) and The Boy's King Arthur (1917).  He was also commissioned to paint murals, including murals at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston and the Missouri State Capitol.  He was the father of American painter Andrew Wyeth.

Followers of the 19th-century religious leader William Miller believed that the Second Coming of Christ would take place on this day in 1844.  Miller, a farmer and veteran of the War of 1812, began to preach in 1813 that the end of the world would come in "about the year 1843."  When that year passed, October 22, 1844 was set by Miller's followers, known as Millerites, as the date of the Second Coming. The Millerites met for the last time in April 1845, and decided not to set another specific date for the end of the world.

On this date in 1797, Frenchman André-Jacques Garnerin made the world's first parachute jump.  He jumped from a balloon 2,230 feet above the Parc Monceau in Paris.  He used an umbrella-shaped, white, canvas parachute, 23 feet in diameter.  On his first jump, the parachute shook so much that he also became the first person to suffer from airsickness.  He later fixed the problem by cutting a vent in the top of the parachute.  He went on to stage sky-jumping exhibitions throughout northern Europe, including a jump from 8000 feet over England in 1802.

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