MONDAY, 10 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "The Silver Swan" by Anonymous. Public Domain.

The Silver Swan

The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approached unlocked her silent throat,
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
Farewell all joys, O death come close mine eyes,
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the essayist William Hazlitt, born in Maidstone, Kent, England (1778). Hazlitt wrote, "One of the pleasantest things in the world is going on a journey; but I like to go by myself. I can enjoy society in a room; but out of doors, nature is company enough for me. ... I cannot see the wit of walking and talking at the same time. When I am in the country I wish to vegetate like the country. I am not for criticizing hedge-rows and black cattle."


It's the birthday of Joseph Pulitzer, born in Budapest, Hungary (1847). He came to this country, moved to New York City and bought the New York World newspaper. He said, "There is room in this great and growing city for a journal that is not only cheap but bright, not only bright but large, not only large but truly democratic—dedicated to the cause of the people rather than that of purse potentates—devoted more to the news of the New than the Old World; that will expose all fraud and sham; fight all public evils and abuses; that will serve and battle for the people with earnest sincerity." With his profits he endowed the Columbia School of Journalism as well as the annual Pulitzer prizes for journalism, literature, drama, music.


It's the birthday of Lewis (Lew) Wallace, born in Brookville, Indiana (1827). A general in the Civil War, he's best known as the author of the novel Ben Hur: A Tale of Christ (1880).


It was on this day in 1912 that the R.M.S. Titanic departed Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic. It was supposed to arrive in New York City on April 15th.

It was the biggest passenger ship ever built at the time at 882 feet long and 92 feet wide. Its hull had a capacity of more than four and a half million cubic feet. The Titanic is generally remembered as a luxury liner, but only 325 of the 2,224 people on board were traveling in first class. Many of the passengers were European immigrants hoping to start new lives in America.

On the fifth night of the ship's voyage the weather was clear and windless. There was no moon. It had been an especially warm winter and many icebergs had broken off from glaciers farther north, so the lookout men had been told to keep an eye out for them. At about 11:40, one of the lookouts, Frederick Fleet, saw a huge dark object floating in the water in front of the ship. He yelled, "Iceberg right ahead," and rang an alarm bell. Many of the passengers awake that night later said that they felt a slight bump.

The sinking of the Titanic was one of the worst maritime disasters in history, and it has been a great inspiration to artists of all kinds. More than 500 songs were written about the disaster, most famously "It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down" by Pop Stoneman, with the lines, "Oh they threw the lifeboats out o'er the dark and stormy sea / The band struck up with 'Nearer My God to Thee' / Children wept and cried as the water rushed through the side / It was sad when that great ship went down." The disaster has also been the subject of more than a hundred books and at least a dozen movies.


It was on this day in 1925 that F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby was published. Fitzgerald was twenty-eight years old at the time. He'd just produced a play called The Vegetable (1923), which was a big flop. So he sailed with his wife, Zelda, to France in May of 1924. He found that he could see America better from a distance, and he began to write his novel about a wealthy bootlegger named Jay Gatsby, who wears pink suits and throws extravagant parties and is obsessed with winning back the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan.

Fitzgerald worked on the novel every day that summer, writing in pencil, drinking Coca-Cola and gin, and reading Keats whenever he needed inspiration. He struggled with the title and considered calling it "Under the Red, White and Blue," "Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires," and "The High-Bouncing Lover." When he sent the first draft to his editor Maxwell Perkins, just five months after he'd started writing, he thought it should be called "Trimalchio in West Egg" or just "Trimalchio." Perkins suggested The Great Gatsby.


It's the birthday of novelist and essayist Anne Lamott, born in San Francisco, California (1954). In the late 1970s, her father was diagnosed with brain cancer, and she began to write short pieces about the effect of the disease on him and other members of her family, and these pieces became chapters of her first novel, Hard Laughter (1980).

She wrote three more novels over the next decade, but she didn't have any big literary successes. Then, in her mid-thirties, she accidentally got pregnant and her boyfriend left her when she decided to keep the baby. For her first year as a single mother, she found herself on the edge of financial and emotional disaster. She was too busy to write fiction, so she just kept a daily journal of experiences as a parent, and that became her memoir Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year (1993). It was her first best-seller.


It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux, born in Medford, Massachusetts (1941). After college he decided to join the Peace Corps in 1963. He later said, "I had thought of responsibilities I did not want—marriage seemed too permanent, grad school too hard, and the army too brutal." He said the Peace Corps was a kind of "Howard Johnson's on the main drag to maturity."

The Peace Corps sent him to live in East Africa. He was expelled from Malawi after he became friends with a group that planned to assassinate the president of the country. He continued traveling around Africa, teaching English, and started submitting pieces to magazines back in the United States. While living in Africa, he became friends with the writer V.S. Naipaul, who became his mentor and who encouraged him to keep traveling.

He had published several novels when he decided to go on a four-month trip through Asia by train. He wrote every day on the journey, and he filled four thick notebooks with material that eventually became his first best-seller, The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia (1975).




TUESDAY, 11 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "For Bartleby" by Malena Mörling from Ocean Avenue. © New Issues Press. Reprinted with permission.

For Bartleby

Tonight I wonder where the man is
    who used to stand just inside the doors
of the Lexington Avenue entrance to Grand Central Station.

The full moon is rising. Around the earth, meteors move
    through space. Every day for over a year
I walked by him early in the morning

    and at the end of the day he still
stood in the same position, arms down
    his sides, looking straight ahead

at thousands of people walking
    without colliding in all directions at once,
everybody trying to get to a different place.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1945 that American troops entered the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, a camp that was judged second only to Auschwitz in the horrors it imposed on its prisoners. It had been established in 1937, and about 56,000 prisoners died there. There had been reports of concentration camps from the field, but no American soldiers had seen the camps. Many people assumed that the reports had been anti-Nazi propaganda. But then, on this day, the American soldiers saw a concentration camp for themselves, and they became the first Allied observers of one of the worst atrocities in human history.

The American troops weren't actually liberators. Most of the Nazis had fled the camp before the approach of the Allied army, and the prisoners themselves had risen up and taken control of the camp from the few SS guards who remained. But most of those prisoners would have died from malnutrition or disease in the next few days if Allied troops hadn't arrived with food, water, and medical supplies.

Many of the soldiers who entered Buchenwald on this day had been fighting in World War II since D-Day. They had participated some of the bloodiest battles in history. But nothing they'd seen prepared them for what they saw at Buchenwald. Several of the soldiers carried Kodak cameras, and so they took photographs of the surviving prisoners and the dead, so that people would believe what they had seen. Their photographs showed human beings so emaciated that they could barely walk, and victims' bodies were stacked around the camp like piles of wood.

Sergeant Fred Friendly, who would go on to work as a CBS producer, wrote to his mother, "I want you to never forget or let our disbelieving friends forget, that your flesh and blood saw this."

One of the reporters who covered the liberation of Buchenwald was Edward R. Murrow. He was so disturbed by what he saw that he couldn't write about it for days, and let a subordinate break the story.

One of the children liberated at the camp that day was a teenager named Elie Wiesel, who would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He had been forced to march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald a few weeks earlier, and his father had recently died in the camp. He saw American jeeps rolling into the camps, and he later wrote, "I will never forget the American soldiers and the horror that could be read in their faces. I will especially remember one black sergeant, a muscled giant, who wept tears of impotent rage and shame. ... We tried to lift him onto our shoulders to show our gratitude, but we didn't have the strength. We were too weak to even applaud him."


It's the birthday of the poet Christopher Smart, born in Shipbourne, Kent, England (1722). He's the author of the epic poem Jubilate Agno, written around 1763, which went on for hundreds of pages, in which Smart attempted to praise God for every single aspect of his life, including his cat Jeoffry.


It's the birthday of poet Mark Strand, born in Summerside, Canada (1934). He said, "Poetry is about slowing down. You sit and you read something, you read it again, and it reveals a little bit more, and things come to light you never could have predicted."


It's the birthday of Glenway Wescott, born in Kewaskum, Wisconsin (1901). He wrote the short story collection Good-Bye Wisconsin (1928). He also wrote The Pilgrim Hawk (1940), a short novel about expatriates that takes place on a single afternoon.


It's the birthday of humorist Leo Rosten, born in Lodz, Poland (1908). He wrote many books, including The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N (1937) and his masterpiece, The Joys of Yiddish (1968), an unofficial lexicon of Yiddish words, phrases, and rhetorical devices, illustrated with proverbs, quotes, and jokes. It was Rosten who first set down in print the famous definition of chutzpa as, "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."




WEDNESDAY, 12 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "Grandpa Putting Salt on His Ice Cream" by Jay Leeming from Dynamite on a China Plate: Poems. © The Backwaters Press. Reprinted with permission.

Grandpa Putting Salt on His Ice Cream

He would hold the salt shaker
in his right hand, and tap the end
over the dark chocolate.
"It enhances the flavor," he would say.
He had more ice cream in his life
than his ancestors ever did, and more butter,
and more milk, and more eggs.
And when these things filled his veins
and pulled him down,
when the barn of his heart caught fire,
it was those ancestors that his eyes
rolled back to see;
strong Norwegian brothers
driving their cows out of the fields
towards the market and the city,
towards railroads and electric lights,
towards world wars and cameras,
towards his body, his thoughts
and his life.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1633 that Galileo Galilei was put on trial by the Inquisition for supporting the theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. He had angered Pope Urban VIII with a book about his views. The case was referred to the Inquisition, and in 1633 Galileo was brought to Rome to undergo his trial. His book was officially banned by the Church, and Galileo was sentenced to an unlimited period of house arrest in his home in Florence. He gradually went blind and died in 1642.

In 1835, Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems was finally taken off the Vatican's list of banned books. But it wasn't until 1992 that the Catholic Church formally admitted that Galileo was right.


It was at 4:30 a.m. on this day in 1861 that the first engagement of the American Civil War broke out at Fort Sumter. A sixty-seven-year-old secessionist and farm-paper editor named Edmund Ruffin volunteered to fire the first shot. He later said, "Of course, I was highly gratified by the compliment and delighted to perform the service."

People in Charleston watched from rooftops as Fort Sumter was hit with a barrage of cannon fire for the rest of the day and into the next. The fort was ultimately hit by 3,341 shells, but amazingly none of the Union soldiers were killed or injured in the shelling. The only casualty of the engagement came during the ceremonial fifty-gun salute of surrender, when some gunpowder exploded, killing a Union soldier named Daniel Hough.


It's the birthday of Tom Clancy, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1947). His father was a military man, and Clancy always wanted to follow in his footsteps and become an officer. But his eyesight was so bad that he was disqualified for service. So he got a job as an insurance salesman and spent all his spare time reading magazines about military technology, such as Combat Fleets of the World and A Guide to the Soviet Navy.

He worked his way up in the insurance industry until he was running his own business, and then one day he realized that he was bored by his own life, and so he decided to do something different. He had long wondered what would happen if a Soviet submarine tried to defect to the United States, and that became the basis for his first novel, The Hunt for Red October (1984).

Instead of focusing on the fistfights or the sex lives of his characters, Clancy concentrated more on the technology. He described the Soviet submarine in intricate detail, the way it moved and maneuvered, and all its weaponry and hardware. The book got passed around among officers and generals, and eventually made its way to Ronald Reagan, who said he loved it. That endorsement from the president helped turn The Hunt for Red October into a huge best-seller.


It's the birthday of Scott Turow, born in Chicago (1949). He wanted to be a writer from an early age and got into a writing program at Stanford. But he was newly married and living on food stamps, and he said, "It finally dawned on me that I was not James Joyce."

So he went to law school and got a job as a prosecutor in Chicago, and he spent eight years writing his first novel, Presumed Innocent (1987), which became one of the best-selling novels of the 1980s. His most recent book is Ordinary Heroes (2005).


It's the birthday of children's book author Beverly Cleary, born in Yamhill, Oregon (1916). She's the author of a series of books about a girl named Ramona Quimby who wipes paint on the neighbor's cat, draws pictures in library books, and locks her friend's dog in the bathroom, without ever realizing that she's bothering anybody. Cleary's books include Ramona the Pest (1968), Ramona the Brave (1975), and Ramona Forever (1984).




THURSDAY, 13 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "Moondog" by Susan Donnelly from Transit. © Iris Press. Reprinted with permission.

Moondog

He just stood there,
at the corner of 43rd Street
and Sixth Avenue,
nearly seven feet tall,
dressed as a Viking.
Everyone, it seemed,
in New York in the '60s
knew Moondog. They said
he'd been a stockbroker,
from a rich family.
They said he was blind.

I was writing a novel that year,
but didn't know how,
and falling in love,
and everything moved so fast,
but the Viking was motionless.
I know he wrote songs,
but I never heard any.
He just stared outward.
I'd wake up, write myself dizzy,
then go walking, fast,
through the streets.

One day, a stranger
stopped me: JFK had been shot!
This was in midtown. The bells
of St. Patrick's began tolling
and I joined all the others
going up the cathedral steps.
I'd seen the President
just last month—young,
glinting like silver,
in a limousine going up Madison
to the Hotel Carlyle.
He waved to all of us
and we waved back, cheering ...

Or are these tears
for the broken love,
the unreadable novel?
Anyway, the years.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, born on his father's plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia (1743).

He was just thirty-three years old when he was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence. He actually suggested John Adams for the job, but Adams replied, "I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. ... [Also] you can write ten times better than I."

In that founding document, Jefferson wrote the famous words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Jefferson hadn't invented the idea of human rights. He was borrowing from contemporary philosophers such as David Hume, Adam Smith, John Locke and Voltaire. But he was the first person in history to propose founding a new nation on the basis of those human rights.

In addition to being a writer, Jefferson was also a hard-nosed politician, lawyer, naturalist, musician, architect, geographer, inventor, scientist, paleontologist and philosopher. Jefferson filled his house with scientific gadgets and inventions, collected mastodon bones and kept detailed notes on the most obscure details of his life, including the daily fluctuation of the barometric pressure. After he missed the start of the solar eclipse in 1811, he designed his own more accurate astronomical clock. He composed all his papers in later life with a device that allowed him to write with two pens at the same time, so that he could keep copies of all the papers he produced.


It's the birthday of the playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, born in a rich suburb of Dublin called Foxrock (1906). He was an assistant to James Joyce in Paris and then got involved in the French Resistance during World War II. He wanted badly to be a novelist, but he was blocked and so he decided to try writing a play. As an exercise, he made it as simple as possible: It would be a play about two men, Vladimir and Estragon, waiting for a man named Godot, who never arrives. He finished it in just a few months, faster than he'd ever finished anything he'd ever written. And that was Waiting For Godot (1952). It was first produced in 1952 and became an international sensation.


It's the birthday of Irish poet Seamus Heaney, born in Mossbawn, Northern Ireland (1939). Heaney got his start publishing poems about his childhood memories of farm life. He said, "[It was] an intimate, physical, creaturely existence in which the night sounds of the horse in the stable beyond one bedroom wall mingled with the sounds of adult conversation from the kitchen beyond the other."


It's the birthday of the man who invented the game Scrabble, Alfred M. Butts, born in Poughkeepsie, New York (1899). He trademarked the game in 1949. For the first few years, only a few thousand copies of the game were sold, but in the 1950s the president of Macy's played the game on vacation and got hooked. He ordered more for his store, and Scrabble became a great success.

The game has been beloved by many writers, including the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, who had a special Russian version made for himself and his wife.




FRIDAY, 14 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "The Light Above Cities" by Jay Leeming from Dynamite on a China Plate: Poems. © The Backwaters Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Light Above Cities

Sitting in darkness,
I see how the light of the city
fills the clouds, rosewater light
poured into the sky
like the single body we are. It is the sum
of a million lives; a man drinking beer
beneath a light bulb, a dancer spinning
in a fluorescent room, a girl reading a book
beneath a lamp.

Yet there are others—astronomers,
thieves, lovers—whose work is only done
in darkness. Sometimes
I don't want to show these poems
to anyone, sometimes
I want to remain hidden, deep in the coals
with the one who pulls the stars
through a telescope's glass, the one who listens
for the click of the lock, the one
who kisses softly a woman's eyes.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1828 that Noah Webster (books by this author) published his American Dictionary of the English Language. He was a man who'd grown up in America at a time when Americans from different states could barely understand each other because they spoke with such different accents and even different languages. Americans in Vermont spoke French, New Yorkers spoke Dutch and the settlers in Pennsylvania spoke German. All these different languages were influencing American English and there were no standards of spelling or meaning.

Noah Webster spent twenty years working on his dictionary, which contained 70,000 words, and he did all the research and the handwriting of the book by himself. He is believed to be the last lexicographer to complete a dictionary without any assistance.

Webster's dictionary had the result he intended. His standardized spelling and pronunciation guides helped ensure that Americans who speak English speak more or less the same English. The United States has the fewest dialects of any major country in history.


It was on this day, Good Friday, in 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln (books by this author) was shot in the back of the head while watching a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.

Lincoln had received word of Robert E. Lee's surrender and the end of the Civil War just a few days before he died. He spent his last week as president arguing with Congress about how to readmit the Southern states to the Union. He believed that there should be as little punishment for the rebels as possible.

He had a dream that week that he was on a boat moving rapidly toward shore. It was the same dream he'd had just before every positive development since the war started. He believed it was a sign that everything was coming out right. That afternoon, at 3:00, Lincoln took a ride in an open carriage with his wife and he was the happiest she'd ever seen him. He told her, "I consider this day, the war, has come to a close."


It was on this day in 1894 that Thomas Edison's first kinetoscope appeared in a New York City arcade. The machine Edison designed could only be viewed by one person at a time through a little peephole, and the viewer would see a series of pictures flipped rapidly enough to create the illusion of movement.

Edison formed a movie studio and began to release movies of acrobats and weightlifters, boxing matches and firemen fighting fires. And then in 1903, Edison's studio released The Great Train Robbery, which was such a big hit that storefronts all over the country were converted into movie theaters and the movie business took off.


Today is the anniversary of Black Sunday, the day in 1935 when a windstorm hit a part of the Great Plains known as the Dust Bowl. That area of farmland, which included parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, was considered some of the most fertile land in America at the turn of the twentieth century. Farmers flocked to the area and the wide use of mechanical tractors had plowed up millions of acres of land. When a drought hit the area in the 1930s, and all that plowed-up earth turned to dust.

On this day in 1935, the weather was sunny and calm. People were on their way home from church, or out visiting friends for lunch, when they saw huge flocks of birds flying south, away from a dark black cloud on the northern horizon. As the cloud approached, people realized that it wasn't a storm cloud, but a cloud of dirt, blown up by the wind.

Witnesses said it was like a black tidal wave came down from the sky. It became as dark as night as soon as the cloud descended. Static electricity stalled cars and shorted out telephone lines. People standing a few yards away from their homes got lost in the darkness.

Coincidentally, it was four years later on this day in 1939 that John Steinbeck (books by this author) published his novel about the farmers displaced by the Dust Bowl drought: The Grapes of Wrath.




SATURDAY, 15 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "Headlines" by Robert Phillips from Circumstances Beyond Our Control: Poems. © The Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Headlines

War Dims Hope for Peace.
Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Miners Refuse to Work after Death.
Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.
War Dims Hope for Peace.

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Experts Say
Prostitutes Appeal to Pope.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half.
Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide.
&War Dims Hope for Peace.

Stolen Painting Found by Tree.
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over.
&Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead.

Iraqi Head Seeks Arms.
Police Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers.
War Dims Hope for Peace.
Clinton Wins Budget; More Lies Ahead


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of a brilliant man who had a hard time finishing things, Leonardo da Vinci, (books by this author) born in the Republic of Florence (1452). Though he lived for sixty-seven years, only seventeen of his paintings are known to exist, and only a few of those were finished to his satisfaction, including The Last Supper (1495–98) and Mona Lisa (c. 1503–06).

He kept notebooks full of ideas about architecture and technology of all kinds. Even the doodle pictures of parachutes he drew in the margin of his notes turned out to be technically perfect designs. He drew up plans for an assault battleship, a construction crane, a trench-digging machine, a revolving bridge and a deep-sea diving suit. He made architectural sketches of churches that looked like seashells or blossoming flowers, none of which got built because they were too impractical. Most of his ideas were too ambitious for the tools that existed at the time.

In 1482, Leonardo began a sculpture of a horse. It was extremely difficult to design because the final product would weigh many tons when cast in bronze, and Leonardo wanted the horse to be rearing back on its hind legs. He spent eleven years sketching out the solution to the problem of the horse's balance, but when he tried to cast the horse in bronze, he found that all the bronze in the city had been used to build cannons for an impending war. So the sculpture went unfinished until 1999, when a Japanese-American sculptor used his drawings and plans to build the horse. The finished product was twenty-three feet high, weighing fifteen tons, and it was perfectly balanced.

In 2001, builders completed a Leonardo da Vinci bridge supported by huge rings outside of Oslo, Norway.

Leonardo is best known for his painting the Mona Lisa, which is generally considered the most recognizable work of art in the world. He kept it with him for most of his life, working on it now and again. Today it is probably the most analyzed work of art in history. For centuries, scholars have tried to determine the identity of the woman in the painting. A computer graphics consultant analyzed the painting and found that the nose, mouth, forehead, cheekbones, and eyebrows all lined up with a portrait Leonardo painted of himself. So he may have used himself as the model.

The most extensive works that Leonardo left behind were his notebooks, more than 3,500 pages of sketches and writings. Scholars aren't sure why, but most of what Leonardo wrote in his notebooks is written backwards, so that it could only be legible when held up to a mirror.


It's the birthday of the novelist Henry James, (books by this author) born in New York City (1843). His first memory was an image of a monument to Napoleon as his family traveled by carriage through Paris, and though he was an American, he always loved Europe and spent most of his life living there.

At some point in his childhood, he was injured, possibly in a fire. He never said much about it to his friends, except that the injury was "horrid," but some scholars have suggested that perhaps he was scarred in some way that would explain why he never had a single love affair with anyone. As far as we know, he died without ever having even received a romantic kiss.

But he wrote almost ten million words of fiction and nonfiction, including Daisy Miller (1878), Washington Square (1880), and The Portrait of a Lady (1881).

He became a British citizen near the end of his life as a show of support for Great Britain in World War I. One time, he said to a group of his English friends, "However British you may be, I am more British still."

For a long time, he wasn't very widely read in America, mostly because he seemed so European and old-fashioned. But his popularity has gone up recently, thanks in large part to all of the movies based on his novels that have come out. The Portrait of a Lady, Washington Square, and The Wings of the Dove were all made into Hollywood movies in the late '90s.




SUNDAY, 16 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "Descending Theology: The Garden" by Mary Karr from Sinners Welcome: Poems. © Harper Collins Publishers. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Descending Theology: The Garden

We know he was a man because, once doomed,
   he begged for reprieve. See him
grieving on his rock under olive trees,
   his companions asleep
on the hard ground around him
   wrapped in old hides.
Not one stayed awake as he'd asked.
   That went through him like a sword.
He wished with all his being to stay
   but gave up
bargaining at the sky. He knew
   it was all mercy anyhow,
unearned as breath. The Father couldn't intervene,
   though that gaze was never
not rapt, a mantle around him. This
   was our doing, our death.
The dark prince had poured the vial of poison
   into the betrayer's ear,
and it was done. Around the oasis where Jesus wept,
   the cracked earth radiated out for miles.
In the green center, Jesus prayed for the pardon
   of Judas, who was approaching
with soldiers, glancing up—as Christ was—into
   the punctured sky till his neck bones
ached. Here is his tear-riven face come
   to press a kiss on his brother.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of writer Anatole France, (books by this author) born in Paris (1844). He said, "When a thing has been said and said well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it."


It's the birthday of playwright John Millington Synge, (books by this author) born in a village just south of Dublin, Ireland (1871). He was in Paris, writing literary criticism when he met the poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats told him that instead of trying to work his way into literary circles in Paris, he should go to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland and write about the Irish-speaking peasants who lived there. Yeats said, "Express a life that has never found expression."

So, in 1898, Synge went the Aran Islands and he spent the next four summers there. He explored the craggy, barren landscape, took notes on the Irish language, and wrote down the folktales of the islanders. In 1907, he published an account of his time there, and the material he gathered formed the basis for his two most successful plays, Riders to the Sea (1903) and The Playboy of the Western World (1907).


It's the birthday of the first filmmaker to have complete control over the movies he made, writing, directing and starring in them, and that was Charlie Chaplin, born in London (1889). It was in 1914 that he debuted his most famous character, the Little Tramp, who's always beaten down by life, always the butt of the jokes, but who never gives up his optimism. Chaplin saw the character as a bum who dreams he is a gentleman. He said, "That is why, no matter how desperate the predicament is, I am always very much in earnest about clutching my cane, straightening my derby hat and fixing my tie, even though I have just landed on my head."


Today is Easter Sunday in the Christian church, the holiday that commemorates Jesus Christ's resurrection from the dead.

The Gospel of Mark (16:2–7) reads, "And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?' And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back."

Easter is one of the few floating holidays in the calendar year, because it's based on the cycles of the moon. Jesus was said to have risen from the dead on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. For that reason, Easter can fall as early as March 22nd and as late as April 25th.

The word "Easter" comes from an ancient pagan goddess worshipped by Anglo Saxons named Eostre. According to legend, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning the bird into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit became our Easter Bunny.




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