Monday

May 2, 2011

Sonnet 91

by William Shakespeare

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body's force;
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill;
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humour hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest:
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men's pride I boast:
   Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
   All this away, and me most wretched make.

"Sonnet 91" by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)

On this day in 1536, Anne Boleyn was arrested and imprisoned for high treason, incest, and adultery. Anne was born around 1502 in Norfolk, England, and she was educated in the French court, where she served as a lady-in-waiting to the queen. She grew to be quite accomplished in music and dancing, and she had a keen eye for fashion and a knack for flirtation. She was also intelligent, forward, and interested in politics and religious reform. Some people described her as beautiful, although not in the fair, blonde way preferred at the time; she had black hair, olive skin, and big dark eyes. She never lacked suitors, but it was her charm, spirit, and wit that captivated them.

When she was about 20, Anne returned home to the court of Henry VIII, where she joined her older sister, Mary, as lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Mary was also the mistress of the king for a while, and it didn’t get her anywhere except married off to a dull husband when Henry got tired of her. Anne was clever, though, and when the king turned his attention to her, she refused him. She may have been in love with another man, Henry Percy, but she was also smart enough to look out for her own best interest. The king married Percy off to another woman, and began looking for ways to annul his marriage to Catherine, banishing her from court.

Anne gradually took Catherine’s place at court, though not yet in Henry’s bed. For seven years, he tried to wear her down, writing many love letters to her when they were apart, even though he hated to write — and for seven years he tried to convince the pope to give him an annulment. Anne gave in before the pope did, and by the end of 1532, she was pregnant. They were secretly married in January 1533, and Henry denied the authority of the pope, declaring himself head of the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury declared the king’s first marriage invalid in May, and the baby was born in September: a daughter, dismissed as a “useless girl,” who would become England’s greatest monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.

Anne never produced the son and heir that Henry needed, though, and she suffered three miscarriages in the next three years. Henry turned his attentions to Jane Seymour, Anne’s lady-in-waiting, and began looking for ways to get rid of Anne. He made sure there was no way she would escape execution, accusing her of numerous affairs, incest with her brother, high treason, and witchcraft. The only mercy he showed her was in ordering that she be beheaded by a sword, rather than a common axe.

Today is the 400th birthday of the King James Bible. It was the third complete English translation of the Old and New Testaments commissioned by the Church of England; the first, called the Great Bible, was produced during the reign of Henry VIII, and the second version, the Bishop’s Bible, was completed in 1568. Partial translations had been made as early as the 14th century.

But the Puritans were unhappy with these versions, so King James I called a meeting, the Hampton Court Conference, in 1604. He instructed the translators to make sure the new translation more closely supported the structure and beliefs of the Church of England, which had the side benefit of limiting the Puritans’ influence.

The Old Testament was translated from the Hebrew, and the New Testament was translated from the Greek, by 47 unpaid scholars, using the Bishop’s Bible as a model. The finished product could be purchased loose-leaf for 10 shillings, or bound for 12. There were two different versions, although this was unintentional; there was a typo in Ruth 3:15, so the first edition read, “he went into the city,” while the second read “she went into the city.” The different editions are known as the “He” and “She” Bibles.

The original King James Version also included 15 books known as the Apocrypha, in a separate section between the Old and New Testaments. The Apocrypha were read as popular literature, and not part of the canon; they eventually fell out of favor with the Church of England and were dropped from the King James Bible in 1666.

It’s the birthday of lyricist Lorenz Hart, born in 1895 in New York City. He gave us some of our most beloved love songs: “My Funny Valentine,” “Blue Moon,” “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” “Isn’t it Romantic?” and many more.

He grew up in Harlem, and entered Columbia University with the intention of becoming a journalist. He met Richard Rodgers there, and the two began writing songs for informal student productions. Together, they wrote music and lyrics for 26 Broadway plays over 20 years.

In 1930, the team moved to Hollywood, where they wrote songs for a handful of largely forgotten movies, like The Phantom President, Mississippi, and Hallelujah, I’m a Bum. In 1935, Broadway producer Billy Rose convinced them to return to New York, and over the next seven years, they worked on a string of innovative and popular musical comedies, including Pal Joey, On Your Toes, and Babes in Arms.

Hart struggled with depression and alcoholism for much of his life. He was gay, and only five feet tall, and felt unattractive most of the time, which contributed a wistful, lonely undertone to even his most witty and clever songs. He would often disappear on a bender for days or weeks at a time, and he vanished on opening night of A Connecticut Yankee in 1943. He was found in a hotel room after a couple of days, ill with pneumonia, and he died in the hospital three days later.

On this day in 1952, the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation inaugurated the first commercial jet airliner service. The 36-seat de Haviland Comet 1 was the first jet-powered airplane built specifically to transport large groups of people from Point A to Point B for money, and its first voyage was from London to Johannesburg, with stops in Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe, and Livingstone. Compared to our jetliners today, early models were noisy and remarkably inefficient, but compared to the old propeller-driven planes powered by piston engines, they were tremendously fast. The trip to Johannesburg took only 23 hours, and the jet could fly above storms, eight miles high.

The Comet had a sleek silhouette and large windows, and had a fairly comfortable cabin, but it was prone to metal fatigue and was withdrawn from the market after two years and two catastrophic crashes in which planes ripped apart in mid-flight. It was thoroughly tested and redesigned to correct the problem, but sales never fully recovered.

And on this day in 2000, President Clinton made Global Positioning System, or GPS, technology freely available for use outside the military. President Reagan had made a similar pronouncement in 1983, stating it was for the common good. This was a big deal in theory, but in practice, the highest-quality signal was still only available to the military, with an intentionally degraded signal designated for civilian use. This practice, known as Selective Availability, included several intentional, random errors to prevent enemy military from using it as a weapons guidance system. It wasn’t foolproof, though, and President Clinton ordered Selective Availability turned off at midnight on May 1, 2000, saving the FAA millions of dollars a year in maintenance costs.

The GPS receiver calculates its position based on signals from at least four different satellites, by measuring the time it takes for a message to travel between the receiver and the satellite. Most GPS errors are the result of the receiver’s clock being “off” by as little as one microsecond.

GPS technology is now readily and affordably available in a whole host of consumer devices, like cell phones and watches. It’s spawned the sport of geocaching, a treasure hunt where players hide a cache — a waterproof box with a logbook and little souvenirs inside — for others to find using the published GPS coordinates. Beginner caches are usually in public areas and are easy to find, but some more advanced ones require significant off-road hiking and rock-climbing to reach. When you find a cache, you sign the logbook and you may take one of the trinkets if you leave one of similar value behind for future players.

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

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »