Sunday

Jul. 13, 2008

Into the darkness and the hush of the night
     Slowly the landscape sinks, and fades away,
     And with it fade the phantoms of the day,
     The ghosts of men and things, that haunt the
       light.
The crowd, the clamor, the pursuit, the flight,
     The unprofitable splendor and display,
     The agitations, and the cares that prey
     Upon our hearts, all vanish out of sight.
The better life begins; the world no more
     Molests us; all its records we erase
     From the dull common-place book of our lives,
That like a palimpsest is written o'er
     With trivial incidents of time and place,
     And lo! the ideal, hidden beneath, revives.

"Night" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Public domain.

It's the birthday of the poet John Clare, (books by this author) born in Nottinghamshire, England (1793). He may be the poorest person ever to become a major writer in English literature. His father was a peasant farmer. The family often had to live off the proceeds from a single apple tree in their yard. John Clare went to the village school between the ages of five and 11. He learned to read and write and decided he wanted to write poetry.

He had to support himself as a farm laborer. Malnutrition had stunted his growth. He was never more than five feet tall, so he couldn't do heavy work. He mostly weeded and stacked hay bales and looked after animals. He couldn't afford to buy paper, so he made his own out of birch bark and made his own ink as well. Some of his poems were written on old envelopes.

Other romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Keats were writing nature poetry, but they wrote about nature as a metaphor for something, whereas John Clare always tried to write about nature as it was, the thing itself.

His first book came out in 1820. The fact that he was a peasant helped to make the book a best seller. But within a few years, there was a bank crash, and there was a recession in England. His books sold fewer and fewer copies, and he moved back to the farm.

John Clare wrote, "I live here among the ignorant like a lost man ... they hardly dare talk in my company for fear I should mention them in my writings." He began to suffer from a psychiatric disorder. His behavior grew more and more erratic. He began to see things, spirits and demons. He was committed to an asylum where he forgot who he was. Sometimes, he thought he was Lord Byron and wrote some poems in Byron's style. He escaped from the asylum at one point but was returned and lived there for the rest of his life.

John Clare wrote about 3,500 poems, of which only 400 were published in his lifetime, and his great importance as an English poet has only become clear in the last few decades.

It's the birthday of the short-story writer Isaak Babel, (books by this author) born in Odessa, Ukraine (1894). He was the author of Tales of Odessa. In 1939, he was arrested by the Soviet secret police, and that following January, after a 20-minute trial, he was executed in Moscow.

It was Isaak Babel who said, "There is no iron that can enter the human heart with such stupefying effect, as a period placed at just the right moment."

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

 









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