Jan. 12, 2004
Poem: "Night," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Into the darkness and the hush of night
Slowly the landscape sinks, and fades away,
And with it fade the phantoms of the day,
The ghosts of men and things, that haunt the light,
The crowd, the clamor, the pursuit, the flight,
The unprofitable splendor and display,
The agitations, and the cares that prey
Upon our hearts, all vanish out of sight.
The better life begins; the world no more
Molests us; all its records we erase
From the dull common-place book of our lives,
That like a palimpsest is written o'er
With trivial incidents of time and place,
And lo! the ideal, hidden beneath, revives.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of writer Haruki Murakami, born in Kyoto, Japan (1949). Widely considered one of Japan's most important 20th-century writers, he is heavily influenced by American culture, and has been criticized by some Japanese for being too westernized. He said in an interview, "I write weird stories. Myself, I'm a very realistic person. ... I wake up at 6:00 in the morning and go to bed at 10:00, jogging every day and swimming, eating healthy food. ... But when I write, I write weird." His works include Hear the Wind Sing (1979), A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995).
It's the birthday of artist John Singer Sargent, born in Florence, Italy (1856). He was one of the great painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He made his fortune and reputation as a portrait painter of beautiful women and influential men.
It's the birthday of writer and member of the British Parliament Edmund Burke, born in Dublin, Ireland (1729). Burke studied law, but gave it up to become a writer. He entered Parliament in 1765 and began to write pamphlets about the corruption he found there. He sympathized with the American colonies and wrote essays such as "On American Taxation" (1774) and "On Conciliation with the Colonies" (1775).
It's the birthday of writer Charles Perrault, born in Paris, France (1628). The son of an upper-class bourgeois family, he wrote Parallels Between the Ancients and the Moderns in 1688, which compared the authors of antiquity to modern writers. In 1697, he published Stories or Tales from Times Past, with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose, and opened up a new literary genre, the fairytale.
It's the birthday of writer Walter Mosley, born in the Watts section of Los Angeles, California (1952). His first book was Devil in a Blue Dress (1990), which was set in 1948 and introduced the character of Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, who reluctantly gets drawn into investigations that lead him through the tough streets of black Los Angeles. Mosley is also the author of Black Betty (1994).
It's the birthday of writer Jack London, born John Griffith Chaney, in San Francisco, California (1876). He's best known for his novels The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906). He attended school only through the eighth grade, but he was an avid reader and educated himself at public libraries. He eventually returned to high school, and gained admittance to the University of California at Berkeley, but he only stayed for six months, calling it "not alive enough" and a "passionless pursuit of passionless intelligence."
At the age of 15, he borrowed the money to buy a fishing sloop, complete with a mistress who came with the boat. He began raiding oyster beds and selling the oysters to fish markets; he became so good at it he was known as the "Prince of the Oyster Pirates." He made more money in one week of pirating than he was able to earn in his first full year as a professional writer. However, after a brush with the law, he decided to change sides and became a California Fish patrol deputy.
In 1897, London went to Alaska to pan for gold. He never found any gold, but he gained a tremendous amount of insight and perspective. He returned to Oakland two years later, and struggled in extreme poverty, writing day and night. Three years later, he published The Call of the Wild (1903). It recounts the reversion of a civilized dog, Buck, to his primitive heritage. At his peak, London became America's most famous and best-selling author, and the first writer to become a millionaire through his work. Though his income was great by the standards of the day, his expenses were greater. He was also an alcoholic and often claimed that he only wrote for the money. To pay for his agricultural adventures, he wrote what he thought would be commercial successes. As he grew older, he even resorted to buying story plots from struggling young writers like Sinclair Lewis, and tried to imitate his own style to repeat his earlier successes.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®