Jul. 13, 2009


by John Updike

Money is such a treat.
It takes up so little space.
It takes no more ink
for the bank to print $9,998
than to print $1,001.
It flows, electronically;
it does not gather dust.
Like water, it (dis)solves everything.
Oceanic, it is yet as lucid
as a mountain pool; the depositor
can see clear to the sandy bottom.
It is ubiquitous and under pressure, yet
pennies don't drip from faucets.
Money is so tidy, so neat.

It is freedom in action: when you
give a twenty-buck bill to the cabbie,
you don't tell him how to spend it.
He can blow it on coke,
for all you care. All you care
about is your change. No wonder
the ex-Communists are dizzy. In
the old Soviet Union
there was nothing to buy,
nothing to spend. It was freedom
of a kind, but not our kind. We need
money, the dull electric thrill
when the automatic teller spits out
the disposable receipt.

"Money" by John Updike, from Americana and Other Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1798 that William Wordsworth (books by this author) wrote one of his greatest poems, which he called "Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey on revisiting the banks of the Wye Valley during a tour, July 13, 1798." The poem is now referred to as "Tintern Abbey."

Tintern is a village in Wales, on the River Wye, the site of spectacular medieval ruins that date back to the year 1131. The abbey originally housed an order of Roman Catholic monks who lived an austere life, wore white gowns, and supported themselves by farming and making malted-barley beer.

The Tintern Abbey, which was abandoned in 1536, has been a source of inspiration to other poets, as well. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was inspired by the place to write his poem "Tears, Idle Tears." As for Wordsworth, he recounted that after visiting Tintern Abbey, he composed his famous poem entirely in his head. He claimed: "No poem of mine was composed under circumstances more pleasant for me to remember than this. I began it upon leaving Tintern, after crossing the Wye, and concluded it just as I was entering Bristol in the evening, after a ramble of four or five days with my sister. Not a word of it was altered, and not any part of it was written down till I had reached Bristol."

It's an impressive feat, considering that the poem is more than 1,200 words long. It begins: 

"Five years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. — Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs"

Today is the 49th birthday of the person who is often called the most sued man in the history of the British legal system, Ian Hislop, the editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye. Born in Mumbles, Wales, in 1960, he went to Oxford, and after graduating, he joined the staff of Private Eye, a magazine that's published in the U.K. fortnightly (that is, once every two weeks). It's now Britain's best-selling current affairs magazine, with circulation over 200,000.

When it first started in 1961, the magazine was mostly composed of silly jokes. While it still features a great many silly jokes, it's branched out to include investigative journalism on breaking news, in-depth reports of government and financial scandal, good old-fashioned gossip, and a number of regular columns, serious and satirical. There's a well-respected architectural criticism column called "Nooks and Corners," and there's a column called "Wikipedia Whispers," devoted to reports of famous people editing their own profiles to make themselves look better. The "Literary Review" section is written anonymously, under the pseudonym "Bookworm."

The Eye keeps a large legal defense fund set aside for fighting and paying out libel cases. Hislop was once ordered by a judge to pay £600,000 (roughly 1 million U.S. dollars) in damages to the wife of the Yorkshire serial killer, but the fine was later reduced to £60,000 (about $100,000) on appeal. Outside the courtroom, Hislop told reporters, "If that was justice then I'm a banana."

Hislop once said: "Satire is the bringing to ridicule of vice, folly, and humbug. All the negatives imply a set of positives. Certainly in this country, you only go round saying, 'that's wrong, that's corrupt' if you have some feeling that it should be better than that. People say, 'You satirists attack everything.' Well, we don't, actually. That's the whole point."

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




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