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Poem: "Daybreak," by Galway Kinnell from A New Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin).


On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.

On this day in 1964, French Existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre refused the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He declined the prize because, he said, "a writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution."

It's the birthday of British novelist Doris May Lessing, born in Kermanshah, Iran (1919).  She was born in Iran while her father was serving as a captain in the British army, and later moved with her family to Rhodesia, where she lived until she settled in England in 1949.  Rhodesia was the setting of her first novel, The Grass is Singing (1950), about a white farm family and their African servant.  She's best known for her novel The Golden Notebook (1962). She's also known for her science-fiction series Canopus in Argos (1979-1983).  She said: "In the writing process, the more a story cooks, the better."

It's the birthday of American geneticist George Wells Beadle, born in Wahoo, Nebraska (1903).  While working with fruit flies and bread mold he discovered that genes influence heredity by triggering the production of specific enzymes. One of the important practical results of his research was to make possible a massive increase the production of penicillin.

On this date in 1883, the Metropolitan Opera opened in New York City, with a performance of Gounod's Faust, starring the great Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson as Marguerite.

It's the birthday of American illustrator (Newell Convers) N.C. Wyeth, born in Needham, Massachusetts (1882). As a young man, he became a student of the illustrator Howard Pyle, in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania, where he later settled down.  His first professional illustration was a cover for the Saturday Evening Post on February 21, 1903.  The illustration was of a bucking bronco, and Wyeth was pegged as a Western artist.  Eventually, however, he became more famous for his illustrations for the Scribner Illustrated Classics series, including Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1911) and The Boy's King Arthur (1917).  He was also commissioned to paint murals, including murals at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston and the Missouri State Capitol.  He was the father of American painter Andrew Wyeth.

Followers of the 19th-century religious leader William Miller believed that the Second Coming of Christ would take place on this day in 1844.  Miller, a farmer and veteran of the War of 1812, began to preach in 1813 that the end of the world would come in "about the year 1843."  When that year passed, October 22, 1844 was set by Miller's followers, known as Millerites, as the date of the Second Coming. The Millerites met for the last time in April 1845, and decided not to set another specific date for the end of the world.

On this date in 1797, Frenchman André-Jacques Garnerin made the world's first parachute jump.  He jumped from a balloon 2,230 feet above the Parc Monceau in Paris.  He used an umbrella-shaped, white, canvas parachute, 23 feet in diameter.  On his first jump, the parachute shook so much that he also became the first person to suffer from airsickness.  He later fixed the problem by cutting a vent in the top of the parachute.  He went on to stage sky-jumping exhibitions throughout northern Europe, including a jump from 8000 feet over England in 1802.

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Poem: "Mystery," by C.G. Hanzlicek from The Cave: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press).

    The self is no mystery, the mystery is
    That there is something for us to stand on.
    —George Oppen

There are no guardrails at Canyon de Chelly.
On the very edge
Of the great brow of rock,
I suffered a vertigo
That tied me forever to the earth.
I want to be here,
With the oak floors creaking under me,
And outside, among the flowers,
Where the columbine
Sensibly dies back upon itself
In the first freeze.
The mysteries are all here:
Roots, the leaves turning,
The spiders hard at their geometry lessons,
The seed that obeys perfectly
Its own limits,
The worms turning among the leaves,
Turning the leaves to compost,
Dung beetle and bottle fly,
The fluting of the white-crowned sparrow,
The shrill cries
Of the flickers, newly arrived,
The dog at his dreams,
The airiness of the dogwood,
The heaviness of the cork oak,
And the Bradford pear,
Burning its deepest reds like a candle flame,
And the sun, most mysterious,
Will be almost that red
Just before setting this evening.
The muddiness of the self
Can be forgiven, almost forgotten,
In the clarity of late October.

It's the anniversary of the publication of Sinclair Lewis's novel, Main Street, first published by Harcourt, Brace and Howe on this date in 1920. The novel was denied a Pulitzer Prize in 1921 because it offended the sensibilities of Midwestern critics with its unflattering portrayal of life in the small town of Gopher City, MinnesotaLewis, a native of Sauk Center, Minnesota, was eventually awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926 for his novel Arrowsmith, but he declined the honor.

It's the birthday of English poet Robert Seymour Bridges, born in Walmer, Kent (1844).  While a student at Oxford, Bridges became a friend of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.  In 1918, Bridges published an edition of Hopkins' poetry, which rescued Hopkins from obscurity and established his reputation.  Bridges himself began his career as a physician in London, but gave up his practice in 1882 to devote himself to poetry.  His own books of poetry include October and Other Poems (1920) and The Testament of Beauty (1929).

It's the birthday of the celebrated French actress Sarah Bernhardt, "The Divine Sarah," born Henriette-Rosine Bernard, in Paris (1844). In the 1880s, she was the most famous and sought-after actress in Europe and the Americas.  Audiences were captivated by her "golden voice," her passionate acting, and by rumors of her extravagant lifestyle, which included an alleged affair with the Prince of Wales.  During a rehearsal of a play by Oscar Wilde, she and the playwright got into a heated argument over the interpretation of her role.  At one point, Wilde took out a cigarette and asked, "Do you mind if I smoke, madame?" She snapped back, "I don't care if you burn."

It's the birthday of bibliographer John Russell Bartlett, born in Providence, Rhode Island (1805).  He served as secretary of state of Rhode Island and as a border commissioner in Texas, but his greatest contribution was his Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Phrases, Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States (1848).  The dictionary is full of words that are still in common usage, like "accountability," "blackmail," and "caucus."  Other words and phrases in the dictionary are less common, like the phrase "catawamptiously chawed up," which Bartlett defines as "completely demolished," before writing it off as "one of the ludicrous monstrosities in which the vulgar language of the Southern and Western states abounds."

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Poem: "Hunter's Sabbath: Hippocratic," by Sydney Lea from To The Bone (University of Illinois Press).

Hunter's Sabbath: Hippocratic

the gauzy lichen here    took years
to mask this granite     patient earth
I know I will not save nor cure
invading         yet today my path
as often will be hare's and deer's
and cat's          described by scat and track
thin trail out         thin trail back
that I may leave     no greater scar
than they incise     on scarp and peak
in easy passing     unpursued
nor greater wound     than weather makes
in any less than     fevered mood
today I will not prey     nor storm
my way may do     no earthly good
but let it do at least     no harm

On this date in 1929, prices collapsed on the New York Stock Exchange in a massive sell-off of stocks.  Later in the day, six major banking institutions, led by the firm of J.P. Morgan and Company, put up $40 million apiece to steady the market. The action by the banks held off a Stock Market crash for another five days.

It's the birthday of English-born American poet Denise Levertov, born in Ilford, Essex (1923).  She became a U.S. citizen in 1955, and during the 1960s began to write poems that voiced her opposition to the war in Vietnam. She said: "If poets are inspired to write about their political concerns, that is good ... And you can't make a good poem out of opinion and good intentions."  Her books of poetry include Relearning the Alphabet (1970), Footprints (1972), Candles in Babylon (1982), and Breathing the Water (1987).  She also had a sense of humor.  When asked what she would choose as her epitaph, she said: "She knew how to cure the hiccups."

The first transcontinental telegraph line began operation on this date in 1861, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Johnson Field, in California, sent a message to President Abraham Lincoln, in Washington, D.C.  It cost the general public $6 to send 10 words from San Francisco to New York, and 75 cents for each additional word.  The telegraph line was so successful that it quickly put the Pony Express out of business.

It's the birthday of American writer and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale, born in Newport, New Hampshire (1788). She wrote a novel, Northwood (1827), and was soon asked to edit the Lady's Magazine, which later became known as Godey's Lady's Book. Hale was also a poet, best known as the writer of the popular children's rhyme, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (1830). Hale was also a tireless worker for women's rights, campaigning for equal access to education and fair wages for women.  She organized the first day nursery in the United States, advocated public playgrounds, promoted the radical idea that women could become public school teachers, and was instrumental in founding Vassar College for women.  She also mounted a successful campaign to have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday.

It's the birthday of Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, born in Delft, Netherlands (1632).  At 16, he was sent off to Amsterdam to learn the cloth trade.  Six years later, he returned to Delft as a draper.  In his work as a draper, he used a magnifying glass to count the number of threads per inch in a piece of cloth. This led him to become interested in lenses, and to experiment with grinding his own lenses and with observing objects through a microscope.  He became the first scientist to observe bacteria and protozoa.

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Poem: "Sonnet 37," by William Shakespeare.

Sonnet 37

As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by fortune's dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth;
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts do crowned sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed
And by a part of all thy glory live.
    Look, what is best, that best I wish in thee:
    This wish I have; then ten times happy me!

It's the birthday of novelist Anne Tyler, born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1941).  Tyler spent her childhood and college years in North Carolina, but has become best-known for her novels about eccentric characters living in Baltimore. Baltimore is the setting for many of her best-known novels, including Searching for Caleb (1975) and The Accidental Tourist (1985).  Her 11th novel, Breathing Lessons, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.  She said: "My interest is character.  The real joy of writing is how people can surprise you."

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Harold Brodkey, born in Alton, Illinois (1930).  He began working on his first novel in 1962, and over the next 32 years became famous for not publishing it.  For years, the novel, The Runaway Soul, appeared in his publisher's catalogue, only to be withdrawn as he continued to work on it in his cork-lined, Upper West Side apartment.  "Publishing would interfere with working on it," he said.

It's the birthday of poet John Berryman, born in McAlester, Oklahoma (1914). As an undergraduate at Columbia, he ran for class office and participated on the track team, until a class with Mark Van Doren made him decide to devote himself to poetry. In 1954, he joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota, and in 1956 established his reputation as a major American poet with the publication of his Homage to Mistress Bradstreet.  His other collections include His Toy, His Dream, His Rest (1969) and 77 Dream Songs (1965), which won the Pulitzer Prize.

On this day in 1854, 650 members of an English light cavalry brigade made a heroic and ill-fated charge against a Russian artillery post at Balaklava.  Two-thirds of the British force was killed or wounded in the charge, which was immortalized in Tennyson's poem  "The Charge of the Light Brigade":

Cannon to the right of them,
Cannon to the left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered.
Into the jaws of death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred…

Today is St. Crispin's Day, dedicated to the patron saint of shoemakers, who was martyred by the Roman Emperor Maximian on this date in 287 A.D.  St. Crispin and his brother St. Crispinian lived at Soisson in France, where they preached during the day and supported themselves by making shoes at night.  It was on St. Crispin's Day in 1415 that English troops, commanded by King Henry V, engaged the French army near the village of Agincourt in France.  Despite being outnumbered nearly six to one, the English pulled off one of the most brilliant victories in English military history.  In Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth, King Henry addresses his troops on the eve of battle with a memorable speech:

This story shall the good man tell his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed,
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here;
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon St. Crispin's day.

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Poem: "A Ritual To Read To Each Other," by William Stafford from Stories That Could Be True: New and Collected Poems (Harper & Row).

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

It's the birthday of horror writer Clive Barker, born in Liverpool, England (1952).  He's the author of the fantasy novel Weaverworld (1987) and the collections of short fiction The Books of Blood (1984) and In the Flesh (2000).  When asked about the level of violence in his horror stories, he said: "There's got to be something vile at the end of it, or else why aren't you on a roller coaster instead?"

It's the birthday of novelist Pat Conroy, born in Atlanta, Georgia (1945). After moving to Atlanta in 1976, Conroy wrote his first novel, The Great Santini, about a son's loyalty to his abusive father. The semi-autobiographical novel was later presented by Conroy's mother as evidence in her divorce proceedings against Conroy's father.  His next novel, The Lords of Discipline (1980) was set at the Citadel. His other novels include The Prince of Tides (1986) and Beach Music (1997).

It's the birthday of American biographer Phyllis Rose, born in New York City (1942).  Her first success came with her biography of Virginia Woolf, Woman of Letters (1978).  This was followed by Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages (1983), in which she studies the marriages of Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, John Stuart Mill, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot.  In 1989, she came out with a biography of jazz great Josephine Baker, called  Jazz Cleopatra.

It's the birthday of American novelist and poet John L'Heureux, born in South Hadley, Massachusetts (1934).  From the Jesuits he received a solid classical education, with classes taught in Latin.  He was ordained as a priest and remained a Jesuit for 17 years.  His first book was a volume of poetry, Quick as Dandelions (1964).  His first novel, Tight White Collar, appeared in 1972, a year after he left the priesthood. He said: "The whole idea of being a writer is to get out of oneself into another hide."

It's the birthday of jazz saxophonist and bandleader Charlie Barnet, born in New York City (1913). In 1932, he became the leader of the band at the Paramount Hotel in New York City, and soon began hiring black musicians—one of the first white bandleaders to do so.  Lena Horne was an early vocalist with his band, which was also one of the few predominantly white bands to play the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

On this day in 1825, the Erie Canal opened, connecting Lake Erie with the Hudson River.  Construction on the canal started on July 4, 1817, and when the project was completed it had cost a total of over seven and a half million dollars.  The canal is over 360 miles long.  To celebrate the opening of the canal, New York governor DeWitt Clinton boarded the canal boat Seneca Chief at Buffalo, traveled to Albany on the canal, then traveled down the Hudson River to New York City, where he arrived on November 4.

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Poem: "Sonnet 27," by William Shakespeare.

Sonnet 27

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
    Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
    For thee and for myself no quiet find.

It's the birthday of novelist and biographer A(ndrew) N(orman) Wilson, born in Stone, Staffordshire, England (1950).  He became known in the late 1970s for his farcical novels about the eccentricities of British social life.  His first novel was The Sweets of Pimlico (1977).  His other novels include Who Was Oswald Fish? (1981), Love Unknown (1986), and, most recently, God's Funeral (1999).  In the 1980s, he gained further acclaim as a biographer, and has written well-regarded biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Tolstoy, C.S. Lewis, and the Apostle Paul.

It's the birthday of poet Sylvia Plath, born in Boston (1932).  She published only two books before her death in 1963: a volume of poetry called the Colossus and Other Poems (1960) and the autobiographical novel The Bell Jar (1963), about a young woman's struggle with mental illness.  Other books of poetry followed after her death, including a volume of The Collected Poems in 1981.  She attended Smith College, where she was a gifted writing student.  On the first day of her creative writing class, Professor Alfred Kazin looked over her writing sample and asked her, "If you can write like this, why the dickens do you need a creative writing class?"  She replied, "I'm lonesome here, and I want to talk to you." In the winter of 1963, she was living with her children in a cold flat in London when she turned on the gas on the kitchen stove and committed suicide.

It's the birthday of painter Roy Lichtenstein, born in New York City (1923).  He's most famous for Pop Art paintings borrowing the style of comic books.

It's the birthday of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, born in Swansea, Glamorgan, Wales (1914).   He married at the age of 22.  With a wife and three children to support, he took a job writing radio scripts for the British Ministry of Information.  He was an aircraft gunner during WWII, and after the war became a commentator on poetry for the BBC.  The demands of earning a living, combined with a fast-paced and hard-drinking lifestyle, kept his poetic output small.  What he did write was hugely successful.  In 1952 and 1953, he toured widely in the United States, drinking and lecturing and reading poetry in his hypnotic Welsh brogue.  In early November 1953, he collapsed outside the White Horse Tavern in New York City and died several days later.  He's best known for his Collected Poems (1952) and for the radio play Under Milk Wood (1953).

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Enid Bagnold, born in Rochester, Kent, England (1889).  Her wartime experiences provided material for her earliest novels, A Diary Without Dates (1917) and The Happy Foreigner (1920).  But she's best known for her 1935 novel, National Velvet, about a 14-year old girl who wins England's Grand National Steeplechase on a horse she bought for 10 pounds.

It's the birthday of British explorer Captain James Cook, born in Marton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England (1728).  When the Royal Society organized its first scientific expedition to the Pacific in 1768, 44-year-old James Cook was chosen as commander.  On the ship H.M.S. Endeavour, he and his team of scientists observed the transit of Venus across the sun, charted all of New Zealand, and successfully navigated the Great Barrier Reef. In 1772, he embarked on a second scientific voyage, which took him to the coast of Antarctica and the South Pacific.  On a third voyage, in 1776, he was killed by Polynesian natives in Hawaii.

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Poem: "John Ruskin Considers the Nature of Water, Circa 1842," by Ralph Black from Turning Over The Earth (Milkweed Editions).

John Ruskin Considers the Nature of Water, Circa 1842

        A found poem from Ruskin's Modern Painters

Now the fact is
that there is hardly
a roadside pond or pool
which has not as much
landscape in it as above it.
It is not the dull,
muddy, brown thing
we suppose it to be;
it has a heart like ourselves,
and in the bottom of that
there are the boughs
of the tall trees, and the
blades of the shaking grass,
and all manner of hues,
of variable, pleasant light
out of the sky; nay,
the ugly gutter that stagnates
over the drain bars,
in the heart of the foul city,
is not altogether base;
down in that, if you will look
deep enough, you may see
the dark, serious blue
of far-off sky, and the passing
of pure clouds.

It's the birthday of poet and critic John Hollander, born in New York City (1929).  His first book of poetry, A Crackling of Thorns (1958), was chosen by W.H. Auden to receive the Yale Younger Poets Award.  He has since published nearly 30 volumes of his own poetry.  He has also edited a number of highly acclaimed anthologies of poetry, including three volumes of American Poetry (1994) for the Library of America.

It's the birthday of futurist Alvin Toffler, born in New York City (1928).  He's best known for two books written a decade apart, Future Shock (1970) and The Third Wave (1980).

It's the birthday of Irish-born painter Francis Bacon, born in Dublin, Ireland (1909).  He became famous in the art world in 1945 with an exhibition of his painting "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion."  The figures in the painting were tortured-looking half-human, half-animal forms perched on pedestals.  The painting established Bacon's reputation as a "master of the macabre." He claimed he was a realist in art, and liked to say, "You can't be more horrific than life itself."

It's the birthday of novelist Evelyn Waugh (Arthur St. John), born in London (1903).  Waugh made his reputation as a novelist for brilliant satires of upper-class British society, including Decline and Fall (1928) and A Handful of Dust (1934), and Brideshead Revisited (1945).

It was on this day in 1886 that The Statue of Liberty was officially dedicated on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The statue was a gift to the American people from the people of France on the occasion of the Centennial in 1876.  The 151-foot high, 225-ton, copper statue was created by French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, who assembled the statue in France before it was disassembled and shipped to New York.  The pedestal for the statue was designed by American architect Richard Morris Hunt, and financed by subscriptions by American citizens.  A bronze plaque at the entrance to the pedestal contains an excerpt from the poem "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus: Give me your tired, your poor,/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:/I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

It's the birthday of American geographer and educator Gilbert Grosvenor, born in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey (1875).  In February 1899, he was approached by his father's friend Alexander Graham Bell with the offer of a job as the assistant secretary of the National Geographic Society.  One of his duties in the job was to act as assistant editor of the National Geographic Magazine, which was then a highly technical journal that appealed only to professional geographers. Under Grosvenor, who became editor-in-chief in 1903, the magazine broadened its appeal to the general public, and became a pioneer in the use of color illustrations.

It's the birthday of abolitionist Levi Coffin, born in Greensboro, North Carolina (1789).  In 1821, he opened a Sunday school for slaves, which was soon closed by slave owners who were afraid of having their slaves educated.  He then moved to Indiana, where he made his home an important depot on the Underground Railroad.  More than three thousand fugitive slaves passed through his home on their way to freedom.



  • “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
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