Nov. 29, 2009
A November Sunrise
Wild geese are flocking and calling in pure golden air,
Glory like that which painters long ago
Spread as a background for some little hermit
Beside his cave, giving his cloak away,
Or for some martyr stretching out
On her expected rack.
A few black cedars grow nearby
And there's a donkey grazing.
Small craftsmen, steeped in anonymity like bees,
Gilded their wooden panels, leaving fame to chance,
Like the maker of this wing-flooded golden sky,
Who forgives all our ignorance
Both of his nature and of his very name,
Freely accepting our one heedless glance.
It's the birthday of Louisa May Alcott, (books by this author) born in Germantown, Pennsylvania (1832), who started out writing sensational stories about duels and suicides, opium addiction, mind control, bigamy, and murder. She called it "blood and thunder" literature, and she said, "I seem to have a natural ambition for the lurid style." She published under male pseudonyms to keep from embarrassing her family. But in 1867, an editor suggested that she try writing what he called "a girl's book," and she said she would.
The result was Little Women (1868), which was based on her own family and her own experience as an aspiring writer. Alcott was disappointed at how popular Little Women became, because she was obligated to keep writing more books in the same vein.
It's the birthday Madeleine L'Engle, (books by this author) born in New York City (1918), who struggled to find any success as a writer with novels about ordinary families and ordinary situations, but after reading about the ideas of Albert Einstein, she wrote a science fiction novel called A Wrinkle in Time (1962), about a group of children who have to rescue their father from a planet where individuality has been outlawed. The book was rejected by 26 different publishers, who all felt that it was too difficult for children but too fantastic for adults. But when it came out in 1962, the novel won the Newbery Medal, and it sells about 15,000 copies a year.
It's the birthday of C.S. Lewis, (books by this author) born Clive Staples Lewis in Belfast (1898). He's best known probably for The Chronicles of Narnia, a seven-volume series of children's books. The first in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), begins: "Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids."
C.S. Lewis is well known also for his essays on Christianity. He'd been baptized and raised Anglican (in the Church of Ireland), became atheist as a teenager, then a theist in his 20s, and then, in his early 30s, he converted wholeheartedly to Christianity.
His great many religious writings include Mere Christianity (1952), based on theological talks he gave on the BBC during World War II; The Screwtape Letters, a novel of letters from a demon to his nephew (1942); and the allegorical novel The Great Divorce (1945), in which dwellers of hell ride a bus up to heaven. In an essay called "Is Theology Poetry?" he wrote: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
He taught English and medieval literature for three decades at Oxford University, where he was good friends with The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien.
While friendly with his professorial peers, Lewis worked to ensure that he was an imposing, unapproachable figure to his students at Oxford. Once, a student had come to office hours to discuss the poet John Keats, and was later witnessed running down the stairs as Professor C.S. Lewis yelled after him: "If you think that way about Keats, you needn't come here again!" Another time, he recited one hundred lines of a narrative poem by Matthew Arnold to a student who was not convinced of the poem's merit. When the student still refused to acknowledge that the poem was any good, Professor Lewis proclaimed, "The sword must settle it!" Lewis handed him a rapier and drew the stunned student into a fencing match. The pupil was nicked by his professor's sword and bled a few drops.
C.S. Lewis died a week shy of his 65th birthday in Oxford, England, the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
He said, "Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®