Sep. 15, 2007


by Billy Collins

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Poem: "Sonnet" by Billy Collins from Sailing Alone Around the Room. © Random House, 2002. Reprinted with permission (buy now)


All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here while we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blowout the lights, and come at last to bed.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the mystery novelist and playwright Agatha Christie, (books by this author) born in Devon, England (1890). Her first few books were moderately successful, and then her novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd came out in 1926. That same year, Christie fled her own home after a fight with her husband, and she went missing for 10 days. There was a nationwide search, and the press covered the disappearance as though it were a mystery novel come to life, inventing scenarios and speculating on the possible murder suspects, until finally Christie turned up in a hotel, suffering from amnesia. During the period of her disappearance, the reprints of her earlier books sold out of stock and two newspapers began serializing her stories. She became a household name and a best-selling author for the rest of her life.

Christie averaged about two novels a year for the rest of her writing career. She jotted down ideas for ingenious murder methods all the time, on scraps of paper and napkins. Her murderers were always members of the upper class, people who dressed well, spoke well, and had great manners, but who just happened to also be killers. She said, "I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest."

It's the birthday of humorist Robert Benchley, (books by this author) born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1889). He said, "I do most of my work sitting down; that's where I shine."

It's the birthday of the first best-selling American novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, (books by this author) born in Burlington, New Jersey (1789). He wrote many novels, but he's best known for his series of five novels called the Leatherstocking Tales, including Last of the Mohicans (1826), about frontier violence and adventure. At the time, most Americans read English literature about kings and queens, because they thought it was more romantic than their own difficult, colonial lives. James Fenimore Cooper was the first American author to make the wild, untamed life in America seem romantic.

It's the birthday of children's author Robert McCloskey, (books by this author) born in 1914 in Hamilton, Ohio. He's best known for his book Make Way for Ducklings (1941), about a family of ducks in downtown Boston. It begins, "Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were looking for a place to live. But every time Mr. Mallard saw what looked like a nice place, Mrs. Mallard said it was no good. There were sure to be foxes in the woods or turtles in the water, and she was not going to raise a family where there might be foxes or turtles. So they flew on and on. When they got to Boston, they felt too tired to fly any further."

Robert McCloskey went on to write many other books for children, including Blueberries for Sal (1949), A Morning in Maine (1953), and Time of Wonder (1958).

It's the birthday of François VI, duke de La Rochefoucauld, born in Paris (1613), an author whose entire literary reputation is based on a single slim book that he published in 1665 called Maxims, a collection of humorous and ironic maxims about human life and behavior.

Rouchefoucauld wrote, "There are some people who would never have fallen in love if they had not heard that there was such a thing."

And, "Everybody complains of his memory, but nobody of his judgment."

And, "We all have strength enough to endure the troubles of others."

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




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