Aug. 3, 2004
Poem: "Weeds" by Carol Rumens, from Selected Poems © Chatto And Windus, 1987.
In gardens, it's the unwanted
babies that grow best and biggest,
swarming our beds of frail
legitimate darlings with roots
like wire and crude, bright flower-heads.
They seem oblivious to the fury of steel prongs
earthquaking around them.
If they fall today, tomorrow
they'll stand all the greener.
Too soon, the beautiful lives
we've trembled over with sprays
of pesticide, friendly stakes,
and watering-cans at sunset,
give in, leaving us helpless.
The weeds, the unfavoured ones,
stare at us hungrily,
and since it is hard to live
empty of love, we try
to smile; we learn to forgive them.
Literary and Historical Notes:
On this day in 1955, in London, Waiting for Godot premiered in English. It had been running in a small Paris theatre for over a year, and Samuel Beckett, its author, had translated the play. No actor or director wanted much to do with it until Peter Hall came along. He was twenty-four years old and considered the play a masterpiece. Beckett (1906 - 1989) was one of the more influential playwrights of the twentieth century. An Irish Protestant born south of Dublin, he spent much of his life in France, and wrote most of his major work in French. He is probably the most well known writers of "theatre of the absurd."
As the story goes, Vladimir and Estragon, two tramps, have an appointment to meet Godot on a country road. Instead of meeting Godot, they encounter two strange men: Pozzo, a tyrant, and his "servant" Lucky, whom he drags along on a rope. The play consists of jokes to pass the time to deep reflections on the problems of human existence. There is hardly any other action, and Godot never arrives.
Hall said, "I thought it was blindingly original, turning the undramatic (waiting, doubt, perpetual uncertainty) into tense action. "On opening night, there were cheers, and counter-cheers. The critics the next morning were not impressed. They described the language as "flat" and the play itself "twaddle." The Telegraph described it as "An evening of funny obscurity." Harold Hobson, the critic of the Sunday Times, wrote about the production for the next seven Sundays. The play became the talk of London.
It's the birthday of mystery author P(hyllis) D(orothy) James, born in Oxford, England (1920). She is known for her detective novels. Her main detective is Detective Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, who first appears about fifty pages into her first novel when he is sent out by Scotland Yard to investigate a death among the gentry at a remote country estate. He's a dedicated, hard-working policeman who is also a sensitive and successful poet.
James said, "The classical detective story affirms our belief that we live in a rational and generally benevolent universe." James chose to write detective stories because she enjoyed reading them when she was young, and she thought she'd be good at it. She says, "I love the idea of bringing order out of disorder, which is what the mystery is about. I like the way in which it affirms the sanctity of human life and exorcises irrational guilts."
It's the birthday of one of America's first embedded reporters, Ernie Pyle, born Ernest Taylor Pyle in a little white farmhouse near Dana, Indiana (1900). He wrote for newspapers about World War II in the form of letters home from the war front about the daily lives of American troops.
It's the birthday of Rupert Chawner Brooke, born in Warwickshire, England (1887). His first volume of poetry was Poems 1911 (1911). It gave him a small profit within a few weeks and over the next 20 years sold around 100,000 copies. He is best known for his poem, "The Soldier." It begins, "If I should die, think only this of me: / That there's some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England."
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