MONDAY, 12 February 2001

Poem: "Now Winter Nights Enlarge," by Thomas Campion (1567-1620).
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Now Winter Nights Enlarge

Now winter nights enlarge
the number of their hours,
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o'erflow with wine;
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine!
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques and Courtly sights,
Sleep's leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers' long discourse;
Much speech hath some defence,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

It's the birthday of the opera and film director Franco Zeffirelli, born in Florence (1923). He became famous for his lavish set designs for Luchino Visconti's opera productions, and made a name for himself with his film version of Romeo and Juliet (1968).

It was on this day in 1909 that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—the NAACP—was founded in New York City.

It's the birthday of the composer Roy Harris, born in 1898 in a log cabin in Lincoln County, Oklahoma. He was a truck driver until he started studying music at the age of 24. Perhaps because he was born on Lincoln's birthday, his two symphonies are titled The Gettysburg Address (1944) and the Abraham Lincoln symphony (1965).

It's the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the16th president of the United States, born in a log cabin near Hodgenville, Kentucky (1809). When he was a small child his family moved to Indiana, where his step-mother inspired the boy to educate himself. When he was twenty-one, the family moved to Illinois, where he began to study law on his own. He served in the Illinois state legislature for six years, without any particular distinction, and then began a successful law practice in Springfield, representing railroads and other business interests. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1858, against the Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. He lost the election, but Lincoln's anti-slavery positions won him the presidential nomination of the new Republican party in 1860. And though he received only 40% of the popular vote, he won a majority of the votes in the electoral college, and was elected president. He had said he was willing to tolerate slavery where it existed, but didn't want to see it expanded to the territories. Nonetheless, the southern states seceded, and the Civil War began.

It's the birthday of the Renaissance poet and composer Thomas Campion, born in London (1567).

TUESDAY, 13 February 2001

Poem: "For What Binds Us," by Jane Hirshfield from Gravity and Angels (Wesleyan University Press).
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For What Binds Us

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,
nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they've been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There's a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,

as all flesh
is proud of its wounds, wears them
as honors given out after battle,
small triumphs pinned to the chest—

And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.

On this day in 1945, as World War II was drawing to a close, the German city of Dresden was attacked by over 800 American and British bombers. The city had no heavy industry, no strategic importance: it was simply a population center, and the attack had the purpose of destroying German morale. The city, which had been known before the war as the "Florence on the Elbe" for it's beautiful architecture and works of art, was destroyed. 50,000 people died in the bombings.

It's the birthday of the painter Grant Wood, born near Anamosa, Iowa (1892). He made four trips to Europe in the 1920s, and saw the primitive paintings of the late middle ages that later influenced his work. He came back to Iowa, to Cedar Rapids, and settled down to paint. He said, "I gave up looking for the tumble-down farm houses that looked 'Europey,' and started painting the cardboardy frame houses on Iowa farms, and the details of farm women's aprons." His painting of 1930, "American Gothic," showing a farmer and his daughter outside their home, was a great sensation at the Art Institute of Chicago when it was shown there. He taught painting at the University of Iowa until his death in 1942.

It was on this day in 1692 that members of Scottish clan of Macdonald were killed in what became known as the Massacre of Glencoe.

It was on this day in 1542 that Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII, was beheaded in the Tower of London. She had been the maid of honor at Henry's fourth wedding, but when that marriage was annulled, she married the king herself. When Henry learned she'd had affairs before their marriage, he became incensed, and had parliament pass a law declaring it treason for an unchaste woman to marry the king. She was beheaded two days later.

WEDNESDAY, 14 February 2000
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Poem: "A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns, from The Oxford Book of English Verse (Oxford University Press).

A Red, Red Rose

My love is like a red, red rose
    That's newly sprung in June:
My love is like the melody
    That's sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
    So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
    Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
    And the rocks melt wi' the sun:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
    while the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love,
    And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my love,
    Thou' it were ten thousand mile.

Today is Valentine's Day, originally the Roman feast of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration. The holiday was Christianized in 270 A.D., and the date changed from February 15 to 14 to commemorate the martyred Saint Valentine. By the late Middle Ages, the modern tradition of exchanging declarations of love had evolved.

It's the birthday of journalist and author Carl Bernstein, born in Washington D.C. (1944). Interested from an early age in journalism, by 22 Bernstein was a reporter for the Washington Post. He and another young reporter, Bob Woodward, checked out a burglary at the Democratic Party's office in the Watergate apartment complex, and traced the involvement of the White House. They were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1973, the year before Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment. They went on to collaborate on the best-seller All the President's Men (1974).

On this day in 1921, the literary journal The Little Review faced obscenity charges in New York City for having published installments of James Joyce's novel Ulysses (1919 and 1920).

It's the birthday of Canadian poet A. Moses Klein, born in Ratno, Russia (1909). His collections include Hath Not a Jew… (1940) and The Hitleriad (1944). He's also the author of the novel The Second Scroll (1951).

On this day in 1895, Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest opened in London. It was a year of great success for Wilde—his play, An Ideal Husband, was also a hit on the West End—but also a year of personal despair. Just 3 months after The Importance of Being Earnest had its premiere, a jury convicted Wilde of 'gross indecency' for his romantic involvement with Lord Alfred Douglas, a man 16 years younger than he was. Wilde was sentenced to two years of hard labor, which he served in Reading Gaol—an ordeal that destroyed his health. He spent the last 3 years of his life drifting about France and Italy, and writing his long prison poem, "The Ballad of Reading Gaol"—which was printed in 1898. He died in Paris, in his room at the Hotel d'Alsace, most likely of meningitis. He was just 6 weeks past his 46th birthday (1900).

It's the birthday of comedian Jack Benny, born Benjamin Kubelsky, in Waukegan, Illinois (1894), the son of a saloonkeeper. A violin prodigy, he hoped for a concert career, but by 17 was playing in vaudeville, where he discovered he was not only musical, but also very funny. His NBC radio program, The Jack Benny Show, began in 1932 and ran weekly for 23 years. His on-stage character was a sour, exceedingly stingy person, a remarkably awful violin player, and perpetually 39 years old.

THURSDAY, 15 February 2001
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Poem: "Publication—is the Auction Of the Mind of Man" by Emily Dickinson.

Publication—is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man—
Poverty—be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly—but We—would rather
From Our Garrett go
White—Unto the White Creator—
Than invest—our snow—

Thought belong to Him who gave it—
Then—to Him Who bear
Its Corporeal illustration—Sell
The Royal Air—

In the Parcel—Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace—
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price—

It's the birthday of cartoonist Matt Groening, born in Portland, Oregon (1954). Inspired by his cartoonist father, he grew up drawing. He spent his college years at Evergreen State University, in Olympia, Washington, then moved to Los Angeles where he developed a comic strip he called "Life in Hell" (1980). Within a year, the strip was syndicated in 20 newspapers. In 1987 he created an animated family he named "The Simpsons" for the Fox network's The Tracy Ullman Show.

It's the birthday of American composer and pianist Harold Arlen, born Hyman Arluck, in Buffalo (1905), the son of a musician. In the mid-1920s he met lyricist Ted Koehler; together they collaborated on such tunes as "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and "I've Got the World on A String." Among his many Broadway and Hollywood songs are "It's Only A Paper Moon," "That Old Black Magic," and "Over the Rainbow."

It's the birthday of American reformer Susan B. Anthony, born in Adams, Massachusetts (1820). She was a schoolteacher and liberal Quaker who opposed slavery and favored 'temperance.' She campaigned all her life for women's rights, including the right to vote. In 1869 she organized the National Woman Suffrage Association with her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton. At 80 she retired as president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, but remained an advocate and public speaker until her death in 1906.

It's the birthday of John Sutter, born Johann August Suter, in Kandern, Germany (1803). He came over to California, got 49,000 acres of land from Mexico, and built a saw mill, Sutter's Fort (1841), where gold was discovered in 1848. It was the beginning of the Gold Rush of 1849.

It's the birthday of Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei , born in Pisa (1564). He devised a simple open-air thermometer (1607), but his greatest breakthrough was to improve the refracting telescope (1609). It made possible his confirmation of the theory of Copernicus, who insisted that Aristotle was wrong: it's not the Earth that's the center of things, but the Sun. Galileo's books were banned, and he was summoned to Rome to be tried for heresy. In 1633 he was convicted, sentenced to house arrest for life, and his books were ordered burned. He was forced either to renounce all his Copernican beliefs or be tortured on the rack. While signing his declaration that the earth was stationary, he muttered, "And yet… it moves." Confined to his home, he continued to study physics and astronomy, until, in his seventies, he grew completely blind.

FRIDAY, 16 February 2001
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Poem: "Not Only The Eskimos" by Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together (Louisiana State University Press).

Not only the Eskimos

We have only one noun
but as many different kinds:

the grainy snow of the Puritans
and snow of soft, fat flakes,

guerrilla snow, which comes in the night
and changes the world by morning,

rabbinical snow, a permanent skullcap
on the highest mountains,

snow that blows in like the Lone Ranger,
riding hard from out of the West,

surreal snow in the Dakotas,
when you can't find your house, your street,
though you are not in a dream
or a science-fiction movie,

snow that tastes good to the sun
when it licks black tree limbs,
leaving us only one white stripe,
a replica of a skunk,

unbelievable snows:
the blizzard that strikes on the tenth of April,
the false snow before Indian summer,
the Big Snow on Mozart's birthday,
when Chicago became the Elysian Fields
and strangers spoke to each other,

paper snow, cut and taped,
to the inside of grade-school windows,

in an old tale, the snow
that covers a nest of strawberries,
small hearts, ripe and sweet,
the special snow that goes with Christmas,
whether it falls or not,

the Russian snow we remember
along with the warmth and smell of furs,
though we have never traveled
to Russia or worn furs,

Villon's snows of yesteryear,
lost with ladies gone out like matches,
the snow in Joyce's "The Dead,"
the silent, secret snow
in a story by Conrad Aiken,
which is the snow of first love,

the snowfall between the child
and the spacewoman on TV,

snow as idea of whiteness,
as in snowdrop, snow goose, snowball bush,

the snow that puts stars in your hair,
and your hair, which has turned to snow,

the snow Elinor Wylie walked in
in velvet shoes,

the snow before her footprints
and the snow after,

the snow in the back of our heads,
whiter than white, which has to do
with childhood again each year.

On this day in 1959, Fidel Castro took over as the Prime Minister of Cuba. The son of a wealthy sugar cane farmer, Castro had practiced law in Havana, but then, disgusted with the status quo, entered politics as a member of the Cuban People's Party. After ousting dictator Fulgencio Batista, Castro invited the wrath of the United States by nationalizing all the sugar plantations—many of which were owned by absentee landlords in the U.S.A.

It's the birthday of novelist Richard Ford, born in Jackson, Mississippi (1944). His first novel, A Piece of My Heart (1976) follows the journeys of two men to their southern homes. In the early 1980s Ford took a break from writing fiction to work as a writer for Inside Sports—an experience that shaped his novel The Sportswriter (1986), and its Pulitzer Prize-winning sequel, Independence Day (1995).

On this day in 1923, British archeologist Howard Carter, with British antiquarian George Herbert (also known as Lord Carnarvon), uncovered King Tut's Tomb. Once inside the pharaoh's burial chamber, they found heaps of jewels, four golden chariots, and ornaments of ivory, ebony and other precious metals, most of which went to the Cairo Museum.

It's the birthday of historian Henry Adams, born in Boston (1838), the great-grandson of President John Adams. He worked as secretary to his congressman father, who served as the American ambassador to Britain during the Civil War. In 1868 he settled in Washington, D.C., and wrote reform-minded essays for The Nation. He also wrote a nine-volume History of the United States of America from 1801 to 1817. But his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams (1918), is considered his greatest achievement.

SATURDAY, 17 February 2001
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Poem: "Solitude," by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850—1919).

Solitude

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
    Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
    But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
    Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
    But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
    Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of your pleasure,
    But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
    Be sad, and you lose them all, -
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
    But alone you must drink life's gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
    Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
    But no man can help you die.
For there is room in the halls of pleasure
    For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
    Through the narrow aisles of pain.

It's the birthday of novelist Chaim Potok, born in the Bronx, New York City (1929). When he told his mother he wanted to become a writer, she responded, "You want to write stories? That's very nice. You be a brain surgeon, and on the side you write stories." His novel The Chosen (1967) won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of the Australian journalist and poet Andrew Barton Paterson (1864). He was a World War I correspondent and the author of several books of light verse, including The Animals Noah Forgot (1933). He's best known for "Waltzing Matilda," adapted from a traditional verse, which became Australia's national song.

It's the birthday of Irish-American editor and publisher S. S. McClure, born in County Antrim, Ireland (1857). He organized the first syndicated newspaper in the United States, the 'McClure Syndicate' (1884), and later founded McClure's magazine (1893), the most controversial muckraking journal of its time.

It's the birthday of entrepreneur Montgomery Ward, born in Chatham, New Jersey (1844), who came up with the mail-order system of merchandising. As a young man he sold goods to farmers who grumbled about the mark-up costs. This experience prompted his idea of ordering goods direct, by mail: customers could buy lower-cost items direct from the warehouse through catalogue orders they sent in from home. He issued his first catalogue in 1872—a single sheet of paper offering 150 items.

It's the birthday of René Laennec, born in Quimper, near Brittany (1781). He's called the "father of thoracic medicine" for having invented the stethoscope.

It's the birthday of Thomas Malthus, born in The Rookery, near Dorking, England, author of the Essay on Principle of Population. Malthus was pessimistic about the future because of the natural tendency for the population to increase faster than the means of subsistence.

SUNDAY, 18 February 2001
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Poems: "In the Ancient Tradition," and "Dilemma," by David Budbill, from Moment To Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse (Copper Canyon Press).

In the Ancient Tradition

I live within the ancient tradition:
the poet as a mountain recluse,
withdrawn and hidden,
a life of genteel poverty,
a quiet life of meditation,

which gives me lots of time
to gnash my teeth and worry over
how I want to be known and read
by everyone and have admirers
everywhere and lots of money!

Dilemma I want to be
    famous
so I can be
    humble
about being
    famous.

What good is my
    humility
when I am
    stuck
in this
    obscurity?

It's the birthday of novelist Toni Morrison, born Chloe Anthony Wofford, in Lorain, Ohio (1931), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature (1993). Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), was about a black teenage girl who's obsessed with white standards and longs to have blue eyes. Beloved, winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1987), was based on a true story of a runaway slave who, just as she is recaptured, kills her baby daughter to spare her from slavery.

"I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. …Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It's not being in the light, it's being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense."

It's the birthday of editor and writer Helen Gurley Brown, born in Green Forest, Arkansas (1922). Her first book, Sex and the Single Girl (1962), was an immediate hit. In brief, her advice to single women was, "Be smart, be charming, and be good in bed." Three years later (1965), Brown was named editor of the languishing women's magazine Cosmopolitan, which she quickly revamped into a slick, extended advice column for young, single, urban working women.

It's the birthday of novelist Wallace Stegner, born in Lake Mills, Iowa (1909). His novels were mostly set in the American West: Angle of Repose (1971—Pulitzer Prize); Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943); The Spectator Bird (1976—National Book Award); and Crossing to Safety (1987). He also wrote several works of historical nonfiction set in the Western United States, including Mormon Country (1942) and Beyond the Hundredth Meridian (1954). He died in Santa Fe in 1993. He said, "I may not know who I am, but I know where I'm from."

It's the birthday of Surrealist writer André Breton, born in Tinchebray, France (1896). In his novel Nadja (1928), Breton defined Surrealist thought as "Pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, whether verbally or in writing, or in any other way, the real process of thought."

It's the birthday of Yiddish humorist and writer Sholem Aleichem, born Sholem Yakov Rabinowitz, in Pereyaslav, Ukraine (1859). At 24 he published his first book in Yiddish, and would produce more than 40 such volumes during the remaining 33 years of his life. He was a great supporter of all things Yiddish including other Yiddish writers and a newspaper he edited. He also wrote Yiddish stories for children, and helped found the Yiddish Art Theater in New York, two years before he died. A collection of his short stories was adapted as the libretto for the musical comedy The Fiddler on the Roof (1964).



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