Tuesday

Jan. 22, 2002

Ecce Puer

by James Joyce

TUESDAY, 22 JANUARY 2002

Poem: "Ecce Puer," by James Joyce from Collected Poems (Viking Penguin).

Ecce Puer

Of the dark past
A child is born;
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

Of the dark past
A child is born;
With joy and grief
My heart is torn.

Calm in his cradle
The living lies.
May love and mercy
Unclose his eyes!

Young life is breathed
On the glass;
The world that was not
Comes to pass.

A child is sleeping:
An old man gone.
O, father forsaken,
Forgive your son!

On this day in 1973, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Roe v. Wade, making abortion legal in the United States.

On this day in 1938, Thornton Wilder's Our Town premiered at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, where it had a trial run before opening on Broadway. Wilder's play about life and death in the small town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and to become a staple of high school and community theater repertories around the country.

It's the birthday of great Swedish playwright (Johan) August Strindberg, born in Stockholm (1849), the son of a bankrupt aristocrat. After a miserable childhood, he struggled to make a living while working on his first play, a historical drama called Master Olof (1872). The play, which marks a turning point in Swedish drama, was rejected by the Royal Theater in Stockholm. In a career plagued by alcoholism, mental illness, and failed marriages, he would go on to become Sweden's most acclaimed dramatist, with classic plays like Miss Julie (1888) and The Ghost Sonata (1907). In Miss Julie, the daughter of an aristocrat seduces one of her father's ambitious servants; it's one of several Strindberg plays built around power struggles between women and men.

It's the birthday of poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, born in London, England (1788). He was handicapped at birth by a clubfoot and a profligate father, known as Captain "Mad Jack" Byron, who squandered all his wife's inherited money and fled to France. At the age of ten, young Byron escaped poverty when he was unexpectedly named the heir of his rich great-uncle, William, the Fifth Baron Byron. He inherited the family estate, Newstead Abbey, attended the prestigious Harrow School, then enrolled in Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a typically self-indulgent undergraduate. In 1809, he embarked on a grand tour of the Continent, where he fell in love with Greece and started work on his great poem, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-1818). The poem made him a celebrity. The last few years of his life were spent in Italy, where he wrote much of his masterpiece, Don Juan (1819-1824). In Don Juan, Byron wrote: "Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter, Sermons and soda water the day after."

It's the birthday of the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, born in Edwardstone, Suffolk, England (1588). Winthrop was an attorney and a country squire in England until 1629, when an economic slump and Charles the First's new anti-Puritan policy forced him to sell his estate and sail for America as the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He told his fellow colonists: "We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill. The eyes of all people are upon us."

It's the birthday of the philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon, born in London, England (1561). He was a lawyer and a powerful courtier in the courts of Queen Elizabeth the First and King James the First, but he's best known as the author of essays and philosophical works such as the Novum Organum (1620). It was Bacon, in the Novum Organum, who proposed the idea that inductive reasoning should be the foundation of the scientific method. Through inductive reasoning, general principals are derived from a careful examination of particulars. In his essay on Studies, he wrote: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." He also wrote: "Anger makes dull men witty, but it keeps them poor."

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