Monday

Jun. 13, 2011

The Fair

by Hank Hudepohl

Before the gates opened, before popcorn
              and cotton candy drifted down throats

like sweet and salty summer evenings
              of childhood, before the townspeople

confessed to the music and lights,
              the Ferris wheel baskets swung empty

in a slow arc, one by one, offering color
              to the sky — red, yellow, orange, blue.

Just roving boys, what else could we do
              but follow the sandaled feet of girls

out to the fair to buy them rides
              until our pockets turned up penniless,

until we lost them in the dark
              the way sparrows will fly from you,

until our last walk past the fun house
              mirrors stretched our bodies like gum,

when we caught ourselves looking
              back at ourselves for the first time.

"The Fair" by Hank Hudepohl, from The Journey of Hands. © Word Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of English novelist and diarist Frances (Fanny) Burney (1752) (books by this author). She was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, the daughter of a music historian. She didn't learn to read and write until she was 10 years old, but once she did learn, she wasted no time in putting her skills to work writing plays, poems, and songs. Her mother died when she was 15, and her father remarried that same year; her stepmother didn't think writing was a suitable hobby for young ladies, and Fanny burned all of her early work.

When she was 16, she began keeping a diary, a practice she maintained for more than 70 years. She was a keen observer of society and manners, and her journals recount visits by such luminaries as Dr. Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, David Garrick, and Sir Joshua Reynolds — all friends of her father. She also described the Battle of Waterloo, the madness of King George III, and her own mastectomy, performed without any anesthesia beyond a single glass of wine.

Her first published novel, Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1778), was a comedy of manners, informed in large part by her own observations and experience as a young woman in society. She published it anonymously and disguised her handwriting, afraid that publishers would recognize her hand from her work as her father's literary assistant. The novel was a great success, and she followed it with a second — Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) — which would inspire Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813). Burney succeeded in making novel-writing an acceptable enterprise for women, and she paved the way for many 19th-century social satires.

Burney went to the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte in 1786, and she served as "Second Keeper of the Robes" for five years. She was unhappy in her post, since she was too busy to write novels, though she kept up with her diaries. When she was released from service, she married French expatriate general Alexandre d'Arblay, and proceeds from her third novel, Camilla, or a Picture of Youth (1796), paid for a house for the newlyweds. In 1802, they took their young son to France for a brief stay that ended up lasting 10 years, due to a renewal of the Napoleonic Wars. She recorded it all in her diaries, and her account of the Battle of Waterloo may have provided Thackeray with material for Vanity Fair.

She wrote one more novel, The Wanderer (1814), and several plays, only one of which was staged in her lifetime. And near the end of her life, she dedicated herself to publishing her father's memoirs and to organizing her sizable collection of diaries and personal papers. She died in 1840, at the age of 88.

It's the birthday of William Butler Yeats (1865) (books by this author).

Sailing to Byzantium (1928)

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
— Those dying generations — at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

It's the birthday of British mystery writer Dorothy L. (for Leigh) Sayers (books by this author), born in Oxford in 1893. She was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, which she did in 1915, with a degree in medieval literature. Her first two books were volumes of poetry, published in 1916 and 1919; she published her first mystery novel, Whose Body?, in 1923, and it featured Lord Peter Wimsey, a witty aristocrat who solved mysteries as a hobby. Lord Peter is featured in 11 novels and two collections of short stories.

She worked as an advertising copywriter from 1922 to 1931, and came up with the "zoo" series of Guinness ads, which have become classics. She's also credited with coining the phrase, "It pays to advertise."

On this day in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson named the first African-American justice, Thurgood Marshall, to the Supreme Court. Marshall argued and won his first Supreme Court case at 32, Chambers v. Florida, which dealt with undue police pressure on suspects. In 1954, his victory in Brown v. Board of Education overturned the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson, which had set the "separate but equal" policy of school segregation. The Supreme Court unanimously agreed that, in practice, the facilities designated for black students were inferior in every aspect. He was right at home in the liberal-leaning Supreme Court of the 1960s, but over time the demographic of the court changed, and by the end of his tenure he was known as "the Great Dissenter."

He once said, "I intend to wear life as a loose garment," and described himself as a hedonist who didn't have time for pleasure. He enjoyed poker and bourbon and pigs' feet, and placing two-dollar bets at the racetrack, and never took himself too seriously. One famous anecdote tells the story about a white family, tourists, who accidentally got on the justices' elevator in the Supreme Court building. Marshall was already on the elevator, and they mistook him for the elevator operator. They told him their floor, and he replied, "Yessir, yessir." It was only when he got off with them that they realized who he was, and he watched their reaction in amusement.

He was a self-described "hell-raiser" in school, and his teacher used to send miscreants to the basement to study the Constitution. "I made my way through every paragraph," he said. His was the dissenting voice at the 1987 bicentennial celebration of the Constitution; while other speakers praised the document and the founding fathers' foresight, he said: "The government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite 'The Constitution,' they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago. ... The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 could not have envisioned these changes. They could not have imagined, nor would they have accepted, that the document they were drafting would one day be construed by a Supreme Court to which had been appointed a woman and the descendent of an African slave. 'We the People' no longer enslave, but the credit does not belong to the Framers. It belongs to those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of 'liberty,' 'justice,' and 'equality,' and who strived to better them."

Although he had once said, "I have a lifetime appointment and I intend to serve it. I expect to die at 110, shot by a jealous husband," he retired from the court in 1991 due to ill health. A reporter asked what was wrong with him. He answered, "What's wrong with me? I'm old. I'm getting old and I'm coming apart."

On this day in 1983, Pioneer 10 passed outside Pluto's orbit and became the first man-made object to leave the solar system. Designed for deep-space exploration, and launched March 2, 1972, the spacecraft passed safely through the asteroid belt (no small accomplishment considering some of the asteroids are the size of Alaska), took the first close-up pictures of Jupiter in 1973, and sent back data about the solar wind in the far reaches of our solar system. The mission — which was originally expected to last only 21 months — was officially ended in 1997, after 25 years, although NASA's Deep Space Network continued to pick up signals for several more years. Pioneer 10 sent its last, faint communication back home in January 2003.

Even though its communications system is no longer operational, Pioneer 10 continues on its way to Aldebaran, the star that forms the eye of the constellation Taurus; it should make it there in about two million years, give or take, according to NASA.

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

 









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