Dec. 28, 2009

O Best of All Nights, Return and Return Again

by James Laughlin

How she let her long hair down over her shoulders, making a
  love cave around her face. Return and return again.
How when the lamplight was lowered she pressed against
  him, twining her fingers in his. Return and return again.
How their legs swam together like dolphins and their toes
  played like little tunnies. Return and return again.
How she sat beside him cross-legged, telling him stories of
  her childhood. Return and return again.
How she closed her eyes when his were open, how they
  breathed together, breathing each other. Return and return again.
How they fell into slumber, their bodies curled together like
  two spoons. Return and return again.
How they went together to Otherwhere, the fairest land they
  had ever seen. Return and return again.
O best of all nights, return and return again.

"O Best of All Nights, Return and Return Again" by James Laughlin, from Poems New and Selected. © New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1996. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1897 that Cyrano de Bergerac premiered at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin in Paris, France. The playwright was Edmond Rostand, and he based the play very loosely on the life of his favorite playwright, Savien de Cyrano de Bergerac, who lived in the 17th century. But mostly the play is fictional, the story of a well-born soldier with a talent for poetry who is extremely self-conscious because he has a very large nose. He is in love with a beautiful woman named Roxane, but he assumes that neither she nor any other woman will ever love a man with such a large nose. So he helps Christian, one of Roxane's suitors, by writing the poetry that Christian then recites and sends to Roxane. Of course, she falls in love with the man who writes so well, although she is mistaken about who that man is.

When Cyrano de Bergerac premiered on this night in 1897, the audience applauded for half an hour after the end of the show. It was the most successful play Paris had seen in many years. It ran for 200 nights in Paris and was produced all over Europe and the United States.

It was on this day in 1065 that Westminster Abbey was consecrated. It was the project of King Edward the Confessor, but Edward himself was sick on this day and couldn't come to the ceremony and died a few days later. The next year, William the Conqueror was crowned in the Abbey, a tradition that has continued to this day with a few exceptions.

One section of Westminster Abbey is known as the Poets' Corner. The first poet buried there was Geoffrey Chaucer in 1400, and he was actually buried there because he had an administrative position with Westminster and lived right by the Abbey, not because he was a writer. But in 1599, Edmund Spenser was buried near Chaucer, and after that, it was considered a place for writers. Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Rudyard Kipling, and many more are buried there.

Ben Jonson, (books by this author) Shakespeare's contemporary, probably has the most famous epitaph in the Abbey: "Oh rare Ben Jonson." He was buried in Westminster but not in Poets' Corner, and he is the only person buried there ever to be buried standing upright. One story goes that the Dean of Westminster talked to Jonson about the possibility of being buried in Poets' Corner, and Jonson replied: "I am too poor for that, and no one will lay out funeral charges upon me. No, sir, six feet long by two feet wide is too much for me; two feet by two will do for all I want," and the Dean promised he could have it. Whatever the reason, when he died in poverty in 1637, he was definitely buried upright, as some workers found out in 1849 when they accidentally dislodged his burial spot and his skull, with some red hair attached, rolled down from a spot above his leg bones.

Thomas Hardy's (books by this author) funeral at Westminster Abbey was on January 16th, 1928, and it was a controversial burial for the Abbey. Hardy was generally known as an atheist and many people considered his books immoral. The Dean of Westminster wrote a letter to Hardy's local vicar asking about the writer's spiritual status. The Dean was fine with burying Hardy, but as he wrote: "I am receiving every day furious protests on the ground that his teaching was antichristian; that he himself was not a Christian, that his moral standard was low etc. etc. etc." The vicar assured the Dean that Hardy was a Christian at heart despite not having attended church in 21 years. And so the funeral went forward as planned. The pallbearers included Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, James Barrie, John Galsworthy, and A.E. Housman. Shaw wrote: "As we marched, pretending to carry the ashes of whatever part of Hardy was buried in the Abbey, Kipling, who fidgeted continually and was next in front of me, kept changing his step. Every time he did so I nearly fell over him." In fact, Hardy had not wanted to be buried at Westminster, but at the church in Stinsford, his hometown in Dorset. But his literary executor and the government wanted him in Poets' Corner, so as a compromise, his heart was buried in Dorset and his ashes were buried at Westminster. Farmers from Dorset sent soil to Westminster Abbey to bury with him.

It's the birthday of Guy Debord, (books by this author) born in Paris in 1931. He wrote Society of the Spectacle (1967), one of the books that influenced the students and workers who participated in the Paris Uprising of 1968. He wrote: "In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation."

It's the birthday of novelist Simon Raven, (books by this author) born in London (1927). Another novelist said that Raven had "the mind of a cad and the pen of an angel."

It's the birthday of the 28th president, Woodrow Wilson, born in Staunton, Virginia (1856). He started his career as a professor, became governor of New Jersey, and then president.

He said, "A conservative is a man who sits and thinks, mostly sits."

And, "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

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




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