Wednesday

Jul. 3, 2002

Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

by William Shakespeare

WEDNESDAY, 3 JULY 2002
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Poem: Sonnet 18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" by William Shakespeare.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course,
untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand'rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow'st.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to
thee.

It's the birthday of Tom Stoppard, born Tomas Straussler, in Czechoslovakia (1937). His family moved to Singapore soon after he was born, and when the war started and the Japanese occupied the island, his father was killed. The rest of the family escaped to India, then emigrated to England. He never went to university; he worked as a reporter and a theatre critic before turning to playwriting. His first great success was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1967). Many of his plays, including Arcadia (1993) and Indian Ink (1995), have been produced in London and New York since then. He's also written screenplays, and shared an Academy Award for the film Shakespeare in Love. About the process of writing itself, Stoppard has said, "I mean, the whole excitement for writing anything is quite intense. And for a day or two, you think you've done everything extremely well. The problems start on the third day, and continue for the rest of your life."

It's the birthday of M.F.K. Fisher, born in Albion, Michigan (1908). She wrote twenty-seven books and hundreds of articles for The New Yorker and Gourmet, and was thought one of the best prose stylists of her day. She grew up in Whittier, California, where her father edited the Whittier News; her family was ostracized for being Episcopalian in a predominantly Quaker town. She learned her way around the kitchen from the family's cook. She was asked why she didn't write about more important things, like power or love. She said, "The easiest answer is to say that, like most humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it."

It's the birthday of Franz Kafka, born in Prague (1883). He wrote some of the darkest, most disturbing fiction of the twentieth century-"Metamorphosis" (1912), and The Trial (1935). He worked for the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute, calculating the odds of dying from industrial accidents and hidden health hazards. He did his writing at night. "I need solitude for my writing," he wrote. "Not like a hermit-that wouldn't be enough-but like a dead man." Later in his life, as an adult, Kafka wrote his father a long, confessional letter, now considered as significant a work as his other short stories. It combed through conversations and arguments they had had years before. Some of the passages were written in his father's voice. His father never read the letter. Kafka died of tuberculosis not long afterward.

It's the birthday of George M. Cohan, born in Providence, R.I. (1878). He wrote hundreds of songs and more than forty shows and musicals. Critics didn't like them, but theatre-goers loved them. In 1904 his breakout show Little Johnny Jones took local houses by storm, especially the new numbers "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Give My Regards to Broadway."

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