Jan. 27, 2007

A Boat beneath a Sunny Sky

by Lewis Carroll

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Poem: "A Boat beneath a Sunny Sky" by Lewis Carroll. Public domain. (buy now)

A Boat beneath a Sunny Sky

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, (books by this author) born in Salzburg, Austria (1756). His whole life was devoted to music. He was a child prodigy: by the time he was five he could perform difficult pieces on both piano and violin. He made a name for himself as a composer when he was in his teens, and went on to write some of the most popular operas of all time, including The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and The Magic Flute (1791).

Mozart spent most of his adult life in Vienna, and made a living by teaching, publishing music, giving concerts, and composing. He was always pretty well-off for a musician — he had a carriage and servants, and lived in a nice apartment — but he spent money faster than he made it, and he often had to borrow from friends and relatives. He stayed close to his father throughout his life, and when his father died, Mozart fell into a deep depression. He stopped performing in public and relied on teaching to make ends meet.

He died four years later, at the age of 35, while he was in the middle of composing his last piece, Requiem in D, which he wrote as his own funeral march.

It's the birthday of composer Jerome Kern, (books by this author) born in New York City (1885). He wrote songs for more than 100 shows and movies, but he's best known for writing the music to the 1927 musical Show Boat.

We don't know the birthday of the poet Dante Alighieri, (books by this author) but today is the anniversary of one of the most pivotal days in his life. On this day in 1302, Dante learned that he had been exiled from Florence for his political sympathies. He would never see the city again. Dante was a member of the White Party, which wanted the city to remain independent from the influence of the Vatican, but the Blacks wanted to form an alliance with the Pope. Dante tried to help work out a compromise to avoid any real conflict. He traveled to Rome to negotiate with Pope Boniface about the situation, but while he was there, the Blacks launched an uprising and took over the city of Florence. Dante was actually on his way home when he got the news that he had been banished from the city. The government announced that Dante would be buried alive if he ever set foot in Florence again.

Dante spent the rest of his life wandering from city to city in northern and central Italy, estranged from his wife and kids and often living in poverty. His only solace during his exile was writing, and sometime around 1308, he started work on his epic poem, The Divine Comedy, and he spent the rest of his life working on it.

The poem was revolutionary in part because Dante chose to write in colloquial Italian rather that Latin, which had been the language for Western literature for more than a thousand years. It was also the first epic poem in Western literary history in which the author served as the main character.

Dante had hoped that the success of his poem would be so great that he would be invited back to his home city, but he wasn't. Just before his death, his children visited him in Ravenna; it was the first time he had seen them since he left Florence almost 20 years before. He died a few years later.

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871), Lewis Carroll, (books by this author) born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in Cheshire, England (1832). When he was 24 years old, a new dean arrived at the school where Carroll worked, and the dean brought his three daughters, Lorina Charlotte, Edith, and Alice. Carroll befriended the three girls and began spending a lot of time with them. In July of 1862, while floating in a rowboat on a pond, he came up with the story of a girl's adventures in a magical underground world, and told it to the three girls. Carroll always remembered that day. Late in his life he wrote, "I can call it up almost as clearly as if it were yesterday — the cloudless blue above, the watery mirror below, the boat drifting idly on its way, the tinkle of the drops that fell from the oars, as they waved so sleepily to and fro, and (the one bright gleam of life in all the slumberous scene) the three eager faces, hungry for news of fairy-land ..."

Many biographers have made out Carroll to be a shy, awkward recluse who was only comfortable around young girls, but he was actually charming and sociable. Even though he never married, many of his friends were young women, and he wrote several love poems to them. He loved to hold dinner parties, and even made detailed charts of where his guests sat at the table and what they had to eat. He often went to the theater and to art exhibitions, and he took an extensive tour of Russia with his friend. He also wrote about 97,000 letters in his lifetime.

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