Sunday

Oct. 16, 2005

One Hundredth Birthday

by Kim Bridgford

SUNDAY, 16 OCTOBER, 2005
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "One Hundredth Birthday" by Kim Bridgford from Instead of Maps. © David Robert Books. Reprinted with permission.

One Hundredth Birthday

Your birthdays now are lit with irony,
And years build up like tombstones on the cake.
You use one candle for simplicity.

Anticipation mixes with an ache
That makes you wonder how you got this far,
And when. At thirty, things became a blur,
And then the weary nonsense of the rest.
One hundredth birthday bash! It's a mistake,
You say, and they count out for you, alike,
With rapid fingers all your days. No test:
You can't believe you are three numbers strong.

You've become a span of time where people go
To reevaluate where man went wrong.
Time's diplomat, you smile, and then you blow.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the Harpers Ferry raid of 1859, in which the abolitionist John Brown, leading a group of seventeen whites and five blacks, attacked the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to lead an uprising of the slaves. He failed, was arrested, and was hung for his efforts.


It's the birthday of Oscar Wilde, born in Dublin (1854). His mother was a famous poet and journalist and Irish nationalist. His father was an ear and eye doctor. Oscar went to college at Oxford where he began to affect an aristocratic accent and began dressing in velvet knee breeches. He stayed in England after college and became part of a movement in art and literature called Aestheticism, whose motto was "Art for art's sake."

Oscar Wilde said, "Even a good sense of color is more important in the development of the individual than a sense of right and wrong."

He went on a big lecture tour of the United States, traveling to Des Moines, Denver, St. Paul, Houston, and Pennsylvania—just to name a few. He returned to London in 1883 and made his reputation in 1891 with his first and only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, about a beautiful young man who remains young while a portrait of him grows old.

And then in the 1890s, Oscar Wilde burst on the British theater scene with four consecutive comedy hits: Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest.

Oscar Wilde said, "There is no such thing as a romantic experience. There are romantic memories, and there is the desire of romance—that is all. I myself would sacrifice everything for a new experience, and I know there is no such thing as a new experience at all. I think I would more readily die for what I do not believe in than for what I hold to be true. I would go to the stake for a sensation and be a skeptic to the last! Only one thing remains infinitely fascinating to me, the mystery of moods. Sometimes I think that the artistic life is a long and lovely suicide, and am not sorry that it is so."


It's the birthday of the playwright Eugene O'Neill, born in a hotel room on Broadway in New York City (1888). His father was a famous actor. The boy spent much of his childhood on trains and hotels, following his father around on tours.

He flunked out of Princeton. He got a series of odd jobs, went off gold prospecting in Honduras, was an actor in vaudeville, and wrote for a small town newspaper. He spent six months in a sanatorium recovering from TB. He began to read Ibsen and Strindberg and then to write plays: Anna Christie in 1922, Strange Interlude soon after, and Long Day's Journey into Night, which was produced posthumously.


Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Sharon Olds at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »