Apr. 10, 2006
The Silver Swan
Poem: "The Silver Swan" by Anonymous. Public Domain.
The Silver Swan
The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approached unlocked her silent throat,
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
Farewell all joys, O death come close mine eyes,
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the essayist William Hazlitt, born in Maidstone, Kent, England (1778). Hazlitt wrote, "One of the pleasantest things in the world is going on a journey; but I like to go by myself. I can enjoy society in a room; but out of doors, nature is company enough for me. ... I cannot see the wit of walking and talking at the same time. When I am in the country I wish to vegetate like the country. I am not for criticizing hedge-rows and black cattle."
It's the birthday of Joseph Pulitzer, born in Budapest, Hungary (1847). He came to this country, moved to New York City and bought the New York World newspaper. He said, "There is room in this great and growing city for a journal that is not only cheap but bright, not only bright but large, not only large but truly democraticdedicated to the cause of the people rather than that of purse potentatesdevoted more to the news of the New than the Old World; that will expose all fraud and sham; fight all public evils and abuses; that will serve and battle for the people with earnest sincerity." With his profits he endowed the Columbia School of Journalism as well as the annual Pulitzer prizes for journalism, literature, drama, music.
It's the birthday of Lewis (Lew) Wallace, born in Brookville, Indiana (1827). A general in the Civil War, he's best known as the author of the novel Ben Hur: A Tale of Christ (1880).
It was on this day in 1912 that the R.M.S. Titanic departed Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic. It was supposed to arrive in New York City on April 15th.
It was the biggest passenger ship ever built at the time at 882 feet long and 92 feet wide. Its hull had a capacity of more than four and a half million cubic feet. The Titanic is generally remembered as a luxury liner, but only 325 of the 2,224 people on board were traveling in first class. Many of the passengers were European immigrants hoping to start new lives in America.
On the fifth night of the ship's voyage the weather was clear and windless. There was no moon. It had been an especially warm winter and many icebergs had broken off from glaciers farther north, so the lookout men had been told to keep an eye out for them. At about 11:40, one of the lookouts, Frederick Fleet, saw a huge dark object floating in the water in front of the ship. He yelled, "Iceberg right ahead," and rang an alarm bell. Many of the passengers awake that night later said that they felt a slight bump.
The sinking of the Titanic was one of the worst maritime disasters in history, and it has been a great inspiration to artists of all kinds. More than 500 songs were written about the disaster, most famously "It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down" by Pop Stoneman, with the lines, "Oh they threw the lifeboats out o'er the dark and stormy sea / The band struck up with 'Nearer My God to Thee' / Children wept and cried as the water rushed through the side / It was sad when that great ship went down." The disaster has also been the subject of more than a hundred books and at least a dozen movies.
It was on this day in 1925 that F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby was published. Fitzgerald was twenty-eight years old at the time. He'd just produced a play called The Vegetable (1923), which was a big flop. So he sailed with his wife, Zelda, to France in May of 1924. He found that he could see America better from a distance, and he began to write his novel about a wealthy bootlegger named Jay Gatsby, who wears pink suits and throws extravagant parties and is obsessed with winning back the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan.
Fitzgerald worked on the novel every day that summer, writing in pencil, drinking Coca-Cola and gin, and reading Keats whenever he needed inspiration. He struggled with the title and considered calling it "Under the Red, White and Blue," "Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires," and "The High-Bouncing Lover." When he sent the first draft to his editor Maxwell Perkins, just five months after he'd started writing, he thought it should be called "Trimalchio in West Egg" or just "Trimalchio." Perkins suggested The Great Gatsby.
It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Anne Lamott, born in San Francisco, California (1954). In the late 1970s, her father was diagnosed with brain cancer, and she began to write short pieces about the effect of the disease on him and other members of her family, and these pieces became chapters of her first novel, Hard Laughter (1980).
She wrote three more novels over the next decade, but she didn't have any big literary successes. Then, in her mid-thirties, she accidentally got pregnant and her boyfriend left her when she decided to keep the baby. For her first year as a single mother, she found herself on the edge of financial and emotional disaster. She was too busy to write fiction, so she just kept a daily journal of experiences as a parent, and that became her memoir Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year (1993). It was her first best-seller.
It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux, born in Medford, Massachusetts (1941). After college he decided to join the Peace Corps in 1963. He later said, "I had thought of responsibilities I did not wantmarriage seemed too permanent, grad school too hard, and the army too brutal." He said the Peace Corps was a kind of "Howard Johnson's on the main drag to maturity."
The Peace Corps sent him to live in East Africa. He was expelled from Malawi after he became friends with a group that planned to assassinate the president of the country. He continued traveling around Africa, teaching English, and started submitting pieces to magazines back in the United States. While living in Africa, he became friends with the writer V.S. Naipaul, who became his mentor and who encouraged him to keep traveling.
He had published several novels when he decided to go on a four-month trip through Asia by train. He wrote every day on the journey, and he filled four thick notebooks with material that eventually became his first best-seller, The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia (1975).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®