Sunday

Oct. 28, 2007

The Wild Swans At Coole

by William Butler Yeats

SUNDAY, 28 OCTOBER, 2007
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Poem: "The Wild Swans at Coole" by W.B. Yeats, from William Butler Yeats Selected Poems and Four Plays. © The Macmillan Company, 1919. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All's changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes, when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who developed the polio vaccine, Dr. Jonas Salk, born in New York City (1914). He created the vaccine at the height of a polio epidemic in the mid-1950s, when parents were so worried about their children that they kept them home from swimming pools in the summer. Salk's discovery was that a vaccine could be developed from a dead virus, and he tested the vaccine on himself, his family, and the staff of his laboratory to prove it was safe. The vaccine was finally released to the public in 1955, and the number of people infected by polio went down from more than 10,000 a year to fewer than 100. Salk was declared a national hero.


It's the birthday of poet John Hollander, (books by this author) born in New York City (1929), whose poetry collection Types of Shape (1969) is a series of poems that are arranged on the page so that the words form pictures of things — a key, a cup, a swan reflected in water. His collection Picture Window came out in 2004. John Hollander said, "I want my poems to be wiser than I am, to know more about themselves than I do."

It was on this day in 1919 that Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson's veto and passed the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, prohibiting the sale of alcohol. The prohibition movement had been led largely by women, who still had a hard time making a living on their own, and many had seen their lives ruined when their husbands squandered the family income on alcohol.

Prohibition is remembered as a failure, and it was a failure in big cities because they refused to enforce the law. But in rural America, Prohibition was actually quite effective. Both cirrhosis death rates and admissions to state mental hospitals for alcoholism fell by more than 50 percent, and arrests for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct went way down. But city newspapers focused on how easy it was to find alcohol. Even members of the United States Congress had a private country club where they drank liquor openly. By 1932, Prohibition was deemed a complete failure. The 18th Amendment had been the first amendment ever passed to limit the rights of American citizens, and it became the first and only amendment so far to have been repealed.


It was on this day in 1886 that the Statue of Liberty was officially unveiled and opened to the public. It was gift from France intended to celebrate the two countries' shared love of freedom, shipped to the U.S. in pieces packed into 214 crates. Workers put it back together in New York. The day of the dedication was cold and rainy, but huge crowds came out for the celebration anyway. The statue was under veil, and the sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was alone in the statue's crown, waiting for the signal to drop the veil. A boy down below was supposed to wave a white handkerchief at the end of the big speech. The boy accidentally waved his handkerchief before the speech was over and Bartholdi let the curtain drop, revealing the huge bronze lady, and gunshots rang out from all the ships in the harbor. The speaker, who had been boring everybody, just sat down.

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