Jun. 30, 2008
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
It's the birthday of poet and dramatist John Gay, (books by this author) born in Barnstaple, England (1685). When John Gray died in 1732, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. His epitaph, written by Alexander Pope, is followed by two lines that Gay himself composed: "Life is a jest, and all things show it. I thought so once, and now I know it." As a young boy, Gay was sent to London to apprentice to a silk merchant. But he disliked the work, and soon left. Through friends, he got a job as steward to the Duchess of Monmouth. He spent much of his time there writing, and was dismissed from his post in 1714. While there, however, he wrote his first important poem, "Rural Sports" (1713). Some of this other poems include "Trivia: or, The Art of Walking the Streets of London" (1716), and a series of mock-classical poems called "Fables," published from 1727 through 1738.
It's the birthday of poet Czeslaw Milosz, (books by this author) born in Seteiniai, Lithuania (1911), the son of a civil engineer. He described his birthplace as a land forgotten by history: "For many centuries, while kingdoms rose and fell along the shores of the Mediterranean and countless generations handed down their refined pleasures and vices, my native land was a virgin forest whose only visitors were the few Viking ships that landed on the coast."
He received a formal Catholic education, and he later learned Hebrew well enough to translate the Bible into Polish. He received a law degree, spent a year studying in Paris, then worked at a radio station, where he was fired because of his leftist views.
He was an outspoken critic of Communist Russia, and he once wrote: "The philosophy of history emanating from Moscow is not just an abstract theory; it is a material force that uses guns, tanks, planes, and all the machines of war and oppression. All the crushing might of an armed state is hurled against any man who refuses to accept the New Faith."
He received a tip that the Stalinist government was going to arrest him and put him on trial, and so he fled, settling in France. In 1960, he moved to the United States and became Slavic languages and literature professor at Berkeley. He wrote about his adopted country: "What splendor! What poverty! What humanity! What inhumanity! What mutual good will! What individual isolation! What loyalty to the ideal! What hypocrisy! What a triumph of conscience! What perversity!"
It was on this day in 1857 that Charles Dickens gave his first public reading (books by this author). He did this for several reasons: to get away from marital discord at home, because he loved to perform in front of an audience, and because he could make more money reading than he could by writing. His first reading, of A Christmas Carol, was held at Saint Martin's Hall in London, and it was so successful that Charles Dickens became one of the first authors to go on huge, international book tours, performing his own work.
He controlled every aspect of his public readings, down to designing his own reading stand, which was red, with a fringe around the little desk for the book. He kept special reading copies of selected passages from his works, with stage directions for himself written in the margins. He had considered becoming an actor early in his career, and he used his acting abilities at his public readings, creating different voices for each of the characters, acting out some of the action, reading everything with great dramatic energy.
It was on this day in 1936 that the novel Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was first published. When she handed the manuscript over to editors, it was in terrible shape, with more than 1,000 pages of faded and dog-eared paper, poorly typed and with penciled changes. But they loved the story. They asked Mitchell to change the original title, "Tomorrow Is Another Day," because at the time there were already 13 books in print with the word "tomorrow" in the title. They also asked her to change the main character's name from Pansy to Scarlett.
Mitchell later said, "I just couldn't believe that a Northern publisher would accept a novel about the War Between the States from the Southern point of view." But Gone with the Wind broke all publication records. It sold 50,000 copies sold in one day, a million copies in six months, and 2 million by the end of the year. The sales of the book were even more impressive because it was in the middle of the Great Depression. The hardcover of the novel cost $3 a copy, which was fairly expensive at the time. Its sales injected millions of dollars into the publishing industry. The year it came out, employees at the Macmillan publishing company received Christmas bonuses for the first time in nearly a decade.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®