Aug. 25, 2007

A Considerable Speck

by Robert Frost


Poem:"A Considerable Speck" by Robert Frost, from The Poetry of Robert Frost. © Henry Holt and Company, 1969. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein (music by this artist), born in Lawrence, Massachusetts (1918). He is one of the few people in American musical history to have been a success as a composer of serious music, as a composer of popular songs, and as a conductor of a major orchestra. He originally intended to become a pianist, but he became more interested in composing and conducting while he was studying music at Harvard. But even as he got more and more interested in serious classical music and avant-garde modern music, he also occasionally played piano with nightclub acts in Greenwich Village.

In 1943, Bernstein got a job as the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra, and he got his big break a few months later when he had to fill in at the last minute for a Sunday afternoon concert. He was just 25 years old, and it was almost unheard of for someone so young to conduct a major orchestra, but the performance that day got rave reviews in all the New York newspapers.

He went on to become the youngest music director ever to take charge of the New York Philharmonic. He also wrote scores for many musicals, including On the Town (1944), Wonderful Town (1953), Candide (1956), and West Side Story (1957).

Leonard Bernstein said, "To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time."

It's the birthday of novelist Martin Amis (books by this author), born in Oxford, England (1949). He is the author of the novel Money (1984), about a man named John Self who directs TV commercials and wants to make a Hollywood film. He winds up collaborating on the screenplay with a mysterious writer named Martin Amis, who seems to know everything about Self's life.

Amis has written many more novels, including London Fields (1989), The Information (1996), and House of Meetings (2007), about a love triangle between two brothers and a Jewish girl in Stalin's Russia.

It's the birthday of journalist and novelist Frederick Forsyth (books by this author), born in Ashford, Kent, England (1938). He's best known for his novel The Day of the Jackal (1971).

It was on this day in 1944 that Paris was liberated from four years of Nazi rule. After the Allied invasion of Normandy, many people hoped that the Allies would liberate Paris, but Eisenhower made the decision to go around the city, to avoid getting bogged down. Then, as the Allies approached, Nazis ordered a 9:00 p.m. curfew on the city. All windows had to be shut at all times. If civilians disobeyed, German soldiers could use their weapons indiscriminately.

Parisians could endure occupation, but they wouldn't stand for a curfew. On August 18, the Paris police force seized a building across from Notre-Dame and began collaborating with the resistance fighters. Fighting broke out in the streets. Mobs of Parisians, including many women and children, attacked German soldiers and tanks with small pistols and rocks. Hitler ordered that the city be destroyed, but the German commander in the city refused.

Charles de Gaulle persuaded the Allies to change their plans and take the city. Eisenhower agreed to let a division of French troops enter the city first. They took the city on this day in 1944. A war correspondent who rode into the city with the troops wrote, "[I heard] a low murmur at first, it gathered momentum and built into a gigantic roar of hysterical joy ... hurled from all directions, echoing off buildings, rattling windows, deafening eardrums. And then there burst upon us a wall of humanity — I remember its being mostly female and young — yelling, screaming, waving, cheering, clambering up the sides of the trucks, kissing us, pressing flowers and wine on us."

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