Feb. 13, 2014
Who Killed Cock Robin
"Who killed Cock Robin?" "I," said the Sparrow,
"With my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin."
"Who saw him die?" "I," said the Fly,
"With my little eye, I saw him die."
"Who caught his blood?" "I," said the Fish,
"With my little dish, I caught his blood."
"Who'll make the shroud?" "I," said the Beetle,
"With my thread and needle, I'll make the shroud."
"Who'll dig his grave?" "I," said the Owl,
"With my pick and shovel, I'll dig his grave."
"Who'll be the parson?" "I," said the Rook,
"With my little book, I'll be the parson."
"Who'll be the clerk?" "I," said the Lark,
"If it's not in the dark, I'll be the clerk."
"Who'll carry the link?" "I," said the Linnet,
"I'll fetch it in a minute, I'll carry the link."
"Who'll be chief mourner?" "I," said the Dove,
"I mourn for my love, I'll be chief mourner."
"Who'll carry the coffin?" "I," said the Kite,
"If it's not through the night, I'll carry the coffin."
"Who'll bear the pall?" "We," said the Wren,
"Both the cock and the hen, we'll bear the pall."
"Who'll sing a psalm?" "I," said the Thrush,
"As she sat on a bush, I'll sing a psalm."
"Who'll toll the bell?" "I," said the bull,
"Because I can pull, I'll toll the bell."
All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
When they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin.
It's the birthday of novelist Georges Simenon (books by this author), born in Liège, Belgium (1903). He's one of the most prolific writers of all time, best known for his detective novels featuring Inspector Maigret. He wrote more than 400 books, which sold more than 1.4 billion copies from 1935 to 1997.
He quit school when he was 16 to take care of his ailing mother, who died within the year. Then he worked at a bakery and a bookstore before getting a job at the local newspaper. He published his first novel when he was just 17 years old. He later said: "I wanted to be not just myself, so young and insignificant, but all people, those of the land and of the sea, the blacksmith, the gardener, the bricklayer, and all those to be found on the different rungs of the ... social ladder."
He wrote spy stories, detective thrillers, and romance novels, churning them out at a rate of at least 10 pages per day. By the time he was 25, he was rich enough to have a chauffeur and own a yacht. He wanted to write serious fiction, too, and began submitting short stories to a literary magazine in Paris, but they were all rejected. One time, the writer Colette wrote him a note saying: "You are too literary. You must not be literary. Suppress all the literature and it will work." Simenon later said it was the most useful advice he'd ever gotten in his life.
Simenon began traveling throughout Europe on his yacht, gathering materials for novels. In 1930, he published his first Inspector Maigret novel, The Strange Case of Peter the Lett.
Today is the birthday of American religious historian Elaine Pagels (books by this author), born Elaine Hiesey in Palo Alto, California (1943). She was raised by Protestant parents who weren't particularly observant. When she was 13, she rebelled by joining an Evangelical church. When her friend, who was Jewish, was killed in a car accident, church members told her that he would go to Hell because he was not "born again." She later said, "Distressed and disagreeing with their interpretation — and finding no room for discussion — I realized that I was no longer at home in their world and left that church." Though she rejected all organized religion for several years after that, she remained fascinated by the passion and power of belief.
When she was 16, she was hanging out at the St. Michael's Alley coffeehouse in Palo Alto when a handsome physics grad student caught her eye. His name was Heinz Pagels; they were married in 1969. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees at Stanford, and then studied dance with Martha Graham for a while before returning to academia at Harvard. She got a Ph.D. in religion in 1970 and, two years later, was asked to join a team of translators who were working on the Nag Hammadi library: a collection of early Christian texts that had been banned from the Bible. The Gnostic gospels, as they came to be called, had been discovered in an earthenware jar in Egypt in 1945, and they revealed a different interpretation of Christianity. The early church leaders were trying to come up with a unified, simple narrative, and these philosophies didn't fit, so Bishop Athanasius ordered them eliminated from the Christian canon in the year 367. After studying and working with the heretical texts for several years, Pagels wrote a book about them. The Gnostic Gospels (1979) was a surprise hit. It won the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was named one of the 100 best books of the 20th century by Modern Library.
On the heels of the book's success came tragedy. In 1982, her toddler son Mark was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease. He died five years later, and her husband was killed 15 months after that in a mountain-climbing accident near their summer home in Aspen, Colorado. "It was unbearable," Pagels later said: "A lot of people think you get religious when you grieve, but I wasn't one of them. In my experience, it just didn't make any sense." But she kept studying, examining the biblical figure of Satan and turning later to the Gospel of Thomas. In her New York Times best-seller Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003), Pagels explores the Gospel of Thomas through her own personal exploration of spirituality and loss. The Gospel of John portrays Thomas as a doubter who cannot believe without seeing, and as someone who has no faith in the divinity of Jesus. In contrast, the Thomas Gospel teaches that everyone can have a direct experience of divinity, because we are all made in God's image.
Recently, Pagels has turned to the controversial Book of Revelation, and argues that it is not prophecy, as it has always been perceived, but a symbolic account of current events, written during a time of anxiety about the future of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. Her book Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation came out in 2012.
It's the birthday of the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound: Chuck Yeager (books by this author), born in Myra, West Virginia, on this day in 1923. Whereas 20/20 is considered "perfect vision," his was better than perfect at 20/10, and he once shot a deer from 600 yards away. This keen vision was a great asset to a future pilot.
He joined the Air Force as a mechanic, became a fighter pilot during World War II, was shot down by Germans over France, escaped to Spain and then to England, and resumed air combat, flying many successful missions.
After the war, he became a test pilot in the Air Force, flying rocket planes and other aircraft. He was selected as the pilot to fly the rocket-powered airplane "Bell X-1" on a mission to break the sound barrier for the first time. In the weeks before the flight was scheduled, people in the aviation community muttered doubts like, "He better have paid-up insurance." Then, two days before his historic test flight, he broke a couple of ribs while riding a horse. He was so afraid that they would remove him from the mission that he didn't tell anyone except his wife and one friend, who gave him a broom handle to reach up and close the hatch — since he would not be able to reach up and grab it with his ribs broken.
It was on October 14, 1947, that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, Mach 1. He was at an altitude of 45,000 feet — about eight and a half miles up in the air. Fourteen minutes later, he was back on the ground, and he went home to bed to recuperate.
The role of Chuck Yeager was played by Sam Shepard in the movie The Right Stuff (1983), based on the 1979 Tom Wolfe book. Yeager has co-authored a few volumes of memoir, including The Quest for Mach One: A First-Person Account of Breaking the Sound Barrier (1997), Yeager: An Autobiography (1985), and Press on! Further Adventures in the Good Life (1988).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®