Jun. 28, 2005
Poem: "Keats" by Christopher Howell from Light's Ladder. © University of Washington Press, 2004. Reprinted with permission.
When Keats, at last beyond the curtain
of love's distraction, lay dying in his room
on the Piazza di Spagna, the melody of the Bernini
Fountain "filling him like flowers,"
he held his breath like a coin, looked out
into the moonlight and thought he saw snow.v He did not suppose it was fever or the body's
weakness turning the mind. He thought, "England!"
and there he was, secretly, for the rest
of his improvidently short life: up to his neck
in sleigh bells and the impossibly English cries
of street vendors, perfect
and affectionate as his soul.
For days the snow and statuary sang him so far
beyond regret that if now you walk rancorless
and alone there, in the piazza, the white shadow
of his last words to Severn, "Don't be frightened,"
may enter you.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born in Geneva, Switzerland (1712), whose work marked the end of the Age of Reason and the beginning of the Age of Romanticism.
His first important work, Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (1750), argued that man is good by nature, but has been corrupted by society and civilization. He introduced the central idea of romanticism, that the free expression of the creative spirit is more important than rules and formal traditions.
It was Rousseau who published the line, "Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains," the beginning of his most famous work, The Social Contract, (1762).
It's the birthday of the father of the modern spy novel, Eric Ambler, born in London (1909). Graham Greene called him, "the greatest living writer of suspense." He was the first author to write stories about international espionage based on real life. The movie Topkapi was based on his novel The Light of Day, and after seeing the movie, the famous thief Jack Murphy, (also known as Murf the Surf) was inspired to steal the world's largest sapphire, the Star of India, from the Museum of Natural History in New York.
Eric Ambler once told a friend he'd been reading James Joyce and she said, "Never read very good writers when you are trying yourself to write good trash. You'll only get depressed."
It's the birthday of Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky, in Brooklyn, New York (1926). Mel Brooks and his three older brothers were raised by their mother who had come to the United States from Kiev. According to Mel Brooks, she spoke no known language and spoke it with an Irish accent. She was widowed and penniless. She found a job in the garment district, working ten hours a day. She brought home extra work for the evenings, but still kept her apartment clean, and her Children neat and well-dressed. Mel Brooks said, "She was my company. She really was responsible for the growth of my imagination."
Mel Brooks is known for his comedies, including, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, and The Producers.
It's the birthday of the novelist Mark Helprin, born in New York City (1947). He is known for writing big, old-fashioned, ambitious novels about characters who go on adventures and have crises and come to appreciate the beauty of life.
Mark Helprin said, "I have no agony or resentments. Boredom and alienation don't mean a thing to me."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®