Dec. 16, 2007

For My Daughter

by Grace Paley

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Poem: "For My Daughter" by Grace Paley, from Begin Again: Collected Poems. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

For My Daughter

I wanted to bring her a chalice
or maybe a cup of love
or cool water I wanted to sit
beside her as she rested
after the long day I wanted to adjure
commend admonish saying don't
do that of course wonderful try
I wanted to help her grow old I wanted
to say last words the words famous
for final enlightenment I wanted
to say them now in case I am in
calm sleep when the last sleep strikes
or aged into disorder I wanted to
bring her a cup of cool water

I wanted to explain tiredness is
expected it is even appropriate
at the end of the day

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the philosopher and poet George Santayana, (books by this author) born in Madrid (1863). He's best known for having coined the famous phrase, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." He also said, "History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there." And "There are books in which the footnotes or comments scrawled by some reader's hand in the margin are more interesting than the text. The world is one of these books."

It's the birthday of Noel Coward, born in Teddington, Middlesex, England (1899), who became a successful child actor after he appeared as one of the Lost Boys in a London production of Peter Pan when he was 14 years old. Within a decade he was writing plays, composing songs, and starring in many of his own productions, and he went on to write books of verse, short stories, and three memoirs. He once said, "I am all that I have, to work with, to play with, to suffer and enjoy." It took him less than a week to write each of his best known plays, including Hay Fever (1925), Private Lives (1930), and Present Laughter (1943). He wasn't taken seriously by critics, because his work was primarily comic, but he said, "I could no more sit down and say, 'Now I'll write an Immortal Drama' than I could fly, and anyway I don't want to. I have no great or beautiful thoughts." He chose the epitaph for his memorial stone in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner. It simply says, "A Talent to Amuse."

Noel Coward said, "Work is much more fun than fun."

It's the birthday of Philip K. Dick, born in Chicago (1928), who began to suffer from visions and hallucinations in the 1950s. He once thought he saw a face in the sky, which he described as "a vast visage of evil with empty slots for eyes, metal and cruel, and worst of all, it was God." He wasn't sure if his visions were authentic or if they were symptoms of mental illness, and he was fascinated that he could no longer tell what was real and what wasn't. He started writing a series of increasingly strange novels about the nature of reality that have since become science fiction classics, including The Man in the High Castle (1962), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), and A Scanner Darkly (1977).

Philip K. Dick said, "Insanity is sometimes an appropriate response to reality."

It's the birthday of Jane Austen, born in Steventon, Hampshire, England (1775). She is best known for her novels about women yearning to get married, including Sense and Sensibility (1811) and Pride and Prejudice (1813). But she never got married herself. She did fall in love as a young woman, but the man she loved had no money for marriage. Later, she got a proposal from an older wealthy gentleman. She said yes, but then found herself unable to sleep that night. In the morning she did something that was almost unheard of at the time: She told her fiance that she had changed her mind, because she did not love him.

Austen didn't seem to mind the single life. In her letters, she often wrote about the many women she knew suffering from and often dying from childbirth. Of her niece, who had just gotten pregnant for the second time, she wrote, "Poor animal, she will be worn out before she's thirty." In another letter, she wrote, "Mrs. Hall of Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright — I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband."

She spent most of her life relatively poor and dependent on her older brothers. She decided to try publishing fiction in order to get herself some money. She wrote on a table in the family drawing room, and he asked that the squeak not be taken out of the swinging door because it gave her warning to hide her notebooks before someone entered the room. Her first published novel was Sense and Sensibility (1811), and it became a big success. Her other novels include Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816), and today she is the only English-language novelist published before Charles Dickens whose books still sell thousands of copies every year. All of her novels have been made into movies at least once in the last 20 years.

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