Jan. 22, 2004
Poem: "Bloody Men," by Wendy Cope, from Serious Concerns (Faber & Faber).
Bloody men are like bloody buses
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You're trying to read the destinations,
You haven't much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of romantic poet Lord Byron, born George Gordon Noel in Aberdeen, Scotland (1788). Byron was the product of his father's second marriage. His father, nicknamed "Mad Jack," struggled with debt, made his living by seducing rich women, and may have killed his first wife, though he was never charged with the crime. Byron was a poorly behaved child, and his nursemaids hated him. In 1809 he traveled to the eastern Mediterranean and kept a diary of his adventures and exploits. While traveling in Albania, he let a friend read the diary, and his friend persuaded him to burn it. He rewrote the story of his travels as a partially fictionalized book-length poem called Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812). The book made Byron one of the most popular poets of his time.
He was also an outspoken politician in the House of Lords. In 1812, workers in the weaving industry in Nottinghamshire were rioting and destroying machinery because of poor wages and working conditions. The Tories introduced a bill to punish the destruction of weaving machinery by death. Byron fiercely opposed the bill, speaking on behalf of workers' rights, and he published a poem on the topic that said, in part, "Some folks for certain have thought it was shocking, / When Famine appeals, and when Poverty groans, / That life should be valued at less than a stocking, / And breaking of frames lead to breaking of bones." Byron wrote many more books of poetry, including Don Juan (1819). When he died at age 36, several interested parties burned his unpublished memoirs before he'd even been buried.
It's the birthday of English essayist, philosopher, poet, historian, and statesman Sir Francis Bacon, born in London, England (1561). He spent much of his intellectual life challenging Aristotle's view that knowledge should begin with universal truths. He said, "If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties." In Novum Organum (1620), Bacon wrote that scholars should build their knowledge of the world from specific, observable details. His idea is now known as the scientific method, and it's the basis of all experimental science. His scientific method eventually killed him. When driving in the country one day, he got the idea to test the effect of cold on the decay of meat, bought a fowl, and stuffed it with snow. Later that day he came down with a cold, and it ended up killing him.
It's the birthday of crime writer Joseph Wambaugh, born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1937). He is the author of The Onion Field (1973), The Choir Boys (1975), The New Centurions (1970), and many other books.
It's the birthday of poet Howard Moss, born in New York City (1922). A quiet, unassuming man, he served as poetry editor of The New Yorker for almost four decades.
It's the birthday of the man who brought us Conan the Barbarian, science fiction author Robert E. Howard, born in Peaster, Texas (1906).
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