Dec. 9, 2001

In the Night

by Carolyn Kizer

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Poem: "In the Night," by Carolyn Kizer from Cool, Calm & Collected Poems 1960-2000 (Copper Canyon Press).

In the Night

There are spirit presences
Around my bed
Waiting for me to die.
They are in no great hurry
Nor am I.

Do not fear death,
I whisper to my keepers.
Fear life if it goes on too long.
For the lost losers
Make winners weepers.

It's so quiet tonight
I can hear the angels breathing.
Our hands are transparent,
As veined as autumn leaves.
I rest in their arms
And sense the mist rising.

It's the birthday of novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, born in Montrose, Colorado (1905). Trumbo's first novel, Eclipse, was published in 1935. At the same time, he became a screenwriter for Warner Brothers—a job he took thinking it would tide him over until he became a successful novelist. For the next six years, Trumbo wrote twenty-one screenplays, most of them low-budget B-pictures. He did not, however, give up his novel writing. During the 1930s, he read a story about a British officer who was horribly disfigured in World War One. That was the inspiration for Trumbo's 1939 classic anti-war story, Johnny Got His Gun. In 1943, Trumbo joined the Communist Party, and in October of 1947, Trumbo was called to testify before the House Committee of Un-American Activities. He and nine other screenwriters and directors, who became known as "The Hollywood Ten," refused to name names of others they knew to be Communists, and were sentenced to federal prison for contempt. Upon his release, he was blacklisted by Hollywood and could not get work. For the next several years, he continued to write screenplays, using other people as fronts. In 1953, he wrote the story for Roman Holiday, under the name of his friend, Ian McClellan Hunter. It won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. In 1956, using the name Robert Rich, he won another Academy Award for The Brave One. He wrote seven more films without credit until 1960, when he wrote the screenplay for Spartacus, and producer and star Kirk Douglas insisted that Trumbo be given the writing credit. This ended the blacklist. Trumbo went on to write many more screenplays, including Exodus (1960), The Fixer (1968), and Papillon (1973).

It's the birthday of children's story writer and illustrator Jean de Brunhoff, born in Paris, France (1899). He was married and had two small sons, and they came to him one day and told them about a story their mother had made up for them about a little elephant. Brunhoff liked the story so much, he changed it around, added his own touches, and drew pictures to go along with it. It was published in 1931 as The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant. In it, Babar leaves the forest after his mother dies, is adopted and civilized by a character called "the Old Lady," and then returns to his home and becomes king of his native land. The book was a success around the world. It was followed immediately by two more books, The Travels of Babar (1932) and Babar the King (1933). In 1935, Brunhoff was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and spent much of the rest of his life in a sanitarium in Switzerland. He often mailed letters home to his children that contained more elephant stories; he would then turn these into Babar books. Brunhoff died in October of 1937; both Babar and His Children (1938), in which Babar and his elephant wife, Celeste, had triplets, and Babar and Father Christmas (1940) were published posthumously. When Brunhoff's son Laurent became an adult, he began writing and publishing new Babar books.

It's the birthday of journalist and humorist Joel Chandler Harris, born in Eatonton, Georgia (1848). In 1876, Harris moved to the Atlanta Constitution, where he published a series of sketches done in African-American dialect. Three years later, Harris introduced the character of Uncle Remus, a slave who told old folk tales, many of which centered aound the sinister deeds of Brer Rabbit. The stories were collected into a book in 1880, called Uncle Remus: His Song and Sayings: Folklore of the Old Plantation.

It's the birthday of poet and essayist John Milton, born in London, England (1608), who is considered to be among the five greatest poets in the English language. In 1637, he wrote a pastoral elegy, Lycidas, expressing his grief over the death of a college friend, Edward King. In 1643, Milton published a pamphlet that gained him a lot of notoriety. It was called the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. Unhappily married at the time, Milton argued that although adultery was the only legal defense for divorce, incompatibility should be considered as well. In 1644, he published Areopagitica, his famous defense in favor of a free press. In 1667, Paradise Lost was first published. It is the story of Adam and Eve, God and Satan, and what happened when Satan, the most beautiful of angels, was expelled from Heaven.

In 1854 on this day, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" was published. This poem, written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was created to memorialize the Battle of Balaclava, a suicide charge by light cavalry over open terrain by British forces in the Crimean War. Two hundred forty seven men were killed or wounded.

From "The Charge of the Light Brigade"

Half a League, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred…
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

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