Jun. 13, 2006
Poem: "Parable" by Richard Wilbur from Collected Poems 1943-2004. © Harcourt, Inc. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
I read how Quixote in his random ride
Came to a crossing once, and lest he lose
The purity of chance, would not decide
Whither to fare, but wished his horse to choose.
For glory lay wherever he might turn.
His head was light with pride, his horse's shoes
Were heavy, and he headed for the barn.
Literary and Historical Notes:
We don't know the day on which Alexander the Great was born, but historians believe that he died on this day in the city of Babylon (323 B.C.). He was one of the most influential conquerors in the history of Western Europe, and by the time he died, at about the age of thirty-three, his kingdom spanned across Europe and Asia, from Greece to Egypt, Turkey and Afghanistan. He probably died of malaria, collapsing after a banquet.
It's the birthday of the poet and playwright William Butler Yeats, (books by this author), born in Dublin, Ireland (1865). His father was a well-known painter, and he split his childhood between the beautiful countryside of County Sligo, in the west of Ireland, and the bustling city life of London. He said, "Because I had found it hard to attend to anything less interesting than my thoughts, I was difficult to teach."
He grew up in a Protestant family, so he should have been pro-British, but around 1889, he became an advocate for Irish nationalism after he met Maud Gonne, a beautiful actress who had become an activist and who spoke out for Irish nationalism and independence. She became the love of his life, and though she refused his proposal of marriage, she believed that they were spiritually married, that they could communicate telepathically, and that they had been brother and sister in a past life. She inspired him to use his writing as a force for national unity.
Yeats spent years writing plays about Irish nationalism for Maud Gonne to star in. But by 1910, Maud Gonne had married someone else and Yeats had given up on trying to win her love. He continued to consult with mediums and to experiment with automatic writing and séances for the rest of his life, but he gave up on the idea of writing poetry for the collective soul of Ireland, and wrote instead for himself. He said, "We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." Many critics consider his greatest poems those that he wrote after he gave up on Irish nationalism, collected in books such as The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1933).
William Butler Yeats wrote, "Now that my ladder's gone / I must lie down where all the ladders start / In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart."
It's the birthday of British writer Dorothy Leigh Sayers, born in Oxford in 1893. She's best known as the creator of the amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who appeared in eleven mystery novels and twenty-one short stories and said, "Once you've got the How, the Why drives it home."
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