MONDAY, 22 JANUARY, 2007
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Poem: "Winter's End" by Howard Moss, from New Selected Poems. © Atheneum. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Winter's End

Once in a wood at winter's end,
The withered sun, becoming young,
Turned the white silence into sound:
Bird after bird rose up in song.
The skeletons of snow-blocked trees
Linked thinning shadows here and there,
And those made mummy by the freeze
Spangled their mirrors on cold air.
Whether they moved — perhaps they spun,
Caught in a new but known delight —
Was hard to tell, since shade and sun
Mingled to hear the birds recite.
No body of this sound I saw,
So glassed and shining was the world
That swung on a sun-and-ice seesaw
And fought to have its leaves unfurled.
Hanging its harvest in between
Two worlds, one lost, one yet to come,
The wood's remoteness, like a drum,
Beat the oncoming season in.
Then every snow bird on white wings
Became its tropic counterpart,
And, in a renaissance of rings,
I saw the heart of summer start.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of romantic poet Lord Byron, (books by this author) born George Gordon Noel in Aberdeen, Scotland (1788). Byron inherited a lordship and an estate from his uncle, but the estate was rundown, and there was no money for the upkeep. He was born with a right foot that was abnormally small and turned inward. He had to wear a special boot to help him walk, and his classmates made terrible fun of him. On top of that, he realized as a teenager that he was attracted to men as well as women. At the time, men convicted of the crime of sodomy were pilloried in the public square, where crowds could pelt them with mud.

So when he was a young man, to get away from a country where he felt like an outcast, Byron decided to set out on a tour of the eastern Mediterranean, where there were fewer sexual taboos. He and his friend John Hobhouse sailed from England to Portugal and then rode on horseback across Spain. They eventually made their way through Albania, Turkey, and Greece. Byron's friend went back to England, but Byron stayed on in Greece, studying the language and working on a poem loosely based on his adventures. He finally sailed back to England two years after he had left. He wrote to his sister, "If I am a poet ... the air of Greece has made me one."

The poem Byron had written about his travels, called Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812), tells the story of a world-weary young man looking for some kind of meaning in the world in the wake of the French Revolution and the war between France and England. Byron gave a copy of the poem to a publisher when he got back to England, and when it came out in March of 1812, it struck a nerve. The first printing sold out in three days. Byron later said, "I awoke one morning and found myself famous."

He was 24 years old, and he had become the toast of London. Suddenly, he was invited to the most prestigious families' homes. He began to receive hundreds of fan letters, asking for autographs and clippings of his hair. He apparently loved that he had achieved such fame, because he kept all those fan letters for the rest of his life.

He became an outspoken politician in the House of Lords, holding forth in favor of workers' rights. He also wrote many more romantic tales in verse, and his poetry was so popular that it allegedly forced Sir Walter Scott to give up poetry and start writing novels instead. But Byron's behavior was growing increasingly scandalous. He got married, but his wife eventually asked for a divorce, telling her lawyers that she suspected her husband of having committed incest with his half-sister, as well as sodomy with men. When word of the accusations got out in 1816, there was talk that Byron's life might be in danger. He was advised not to appear in public for fear that a crowd might lynch him.

He was finally forced to flee England. He settled in Italy and began his masterpiece, the novel-in-verse Don Juan, loosely based on a legendary hero. It tells the story of a young man sent by his mother on a tour of Europe, where he survives a shipwreck, gets sold into slavery, becomes a soldier and finally a diplomat. Byron developed a new conversational style of poetry for the poem, and he inserted into it all kinds of satirical commentary on European society.

Don Juan remained unfinished when Byron died, at age 36, and the memoir he had been working on was burned by several of his friends and relatives before he'd even been buried.

Lord Byron wrote: "The thorns which I have reap'd are of the tree/I planted; they have torn me, and I bleed./I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed."


It's the birthday of the crime novelist Joseph Wambaugh, (books by this author) born in East Pittsburgh (1937). The son of a policeman, he's the author of novels such as The New Centurions (1971) and The Onion Field (1974). The tone of Wambaugh's writing changed after he read Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1955). Wambaugh said, "Heller enabled me to find my voice."

Before Joseph Wambaugh, most police officers were depicted in print and in film as either overly pious or violent heroes. Wambaugh's characters are "just coping." Nearly all contemporary police characters are influenced by his characterizations.


It's the birthday of the poet Howard Moss, born in New York (1922). He served as poetry editor of The New Yorker magazine for almost four decades, publishing such poets as Theodore Roethke, Richard Wilbur, and Sylvia Plath. He wrote many books of poetry himself, including The Wound and the Weather (1946) and A Swimmer in the Air (1957), and received the National Book Award for his Selected Poems in 1971.

When asked his definition of a good poem, Howard Moss said, "One I like."




TUESDAY, 23 JANUARY, 2007
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Poem: "To the Congress of the United States, Entering Its Third Century" by Howard Nemerov, from The Selected Poems of Howard Nemerov. © Swallow Press and Ohio University Press. Reprinted with permission (buy now)

To the Congress of the United States, Entering Its Third Century

because reverence has never been america's thing,
            this verse in your honor will not begin "o thou."
but the great respect our country has to give
may you all continue to deserve, and have.

         *         *         *
here at the fulcrum of us all,
the feather of truth against the soul
is weighed, and had better be found to balance
lest our enterprise collapse in silence.

for here the million varying wills
get melted down, get hammered out
until the movie's reduced to stills
that tell us what the law's about.

conflict's endemic in the mind:
your job's to hear it in the wind
and compass it in opposites,
and bring the antagonists by your wits

to being one, and that the law
thenceforth, until you change your minds
against and with the shifting winds
that this and that way blow the straw.

so it's a republic, as Franklin said,
if you can keep it; and we did
thus far, and hope to keep our quarrel
funny and just. though with this moral:—

praise without end for the go-ahead zeal
of whoever it was invented the wheel;
but never a word for the poor soul's sake
that thought ahead, and invented the brake.

                                                  26 ii 89


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the man who wrote under the name Stendhal, (books by this author) Marie Henri Beyle, born in Grenoble, France (1783). He decided to become a writer after he stumbled upon a pile of trashy romance novels thrown away by his uncle.

After serving in Napoleon's army, he got a job as a government bureaucrat and wrote journalism on the side. Then, in 1818, he met the love of his life, Métilde Dembowski, the wife of a Polish officer. She rejected his advances, but he followed her across Italy, showing up at parties, staring at her from across the room, trying to disguise himself by wearing a pair of green spectacles. After months of embarrassment, he finally gave up hope and left the country.

He never saw her again, but he wrote a book about the experience called On Love (1822), trying to define what love is. He said that as he worked on it, he had to stop every few minutes to weep. He wrote in On Love: "You hear a traveler speaking of the cool orange groves beside the sea at Genoa in the summer heat: Oh, if you could only share that coolness with her! One of your friends goes hunting, and breaks his arm: wouldn't it be wonderful to be looked after by the woman you love! To be with her all the time and to see her loving you ... a broken arm would be heaven."

Stendhal tried for many years to write a play, but he had no gift for dialogue, so all his plays were failures. He was in his mid-40s when he finally decided to write novels. In 1830, he published his masterpiece, The Red and the Black, about a handsome, lower-class tutor who has an affair with the mother of his students and later tries to murder her.

None of Stendhal's books received much attention in his lifetime. But he believed that he would be famous after his death, and he was right. He is now considered one of the greatest French writers of the 19th century. A new translation of The Red and the Black came out in 2003.

Stendhal said, "A novel is like a bow, and the violin that produces the sound is the reader's soul."


It's the birthday of the painter Edouard Manet, born in Paris (1832). Manet's father was a magistrate, and he wanted his son to pursue a career in law also. Manet saw things differently, in part because his uncle often had taken the young Manet to the Louvre, where he would urge his nephew to pursue painting seriously.

He said, "There is only one true thing: Instantly paint what you see. When you've got it, you've got it. When you haven't, you begin again. All the rest is humbug."


It's the birthday of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, born Jean Baptiste Reinhardt, in Liberchies, Belgium (1910). He grew up in a gypsy camp and learned to play the violin before the guitar. In 1928, his left hand was burned so badly in a caravan fire that he lost the use of the fourth and fifth fingers. He figured out a way to get around the disability, which may be why he had such an original guitar playing style. He never learned to read music, but he composed several jazz classics including "Djangology" and "Minor Swing."




WEDNESDAY, 24 JANUARY, 2007
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Poem: "Into the Lincoln Tunnel" by Deborah Garrison, from The Second Child. © Random House. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Into the Lincoln Tunnel

The bus rolled into the Lincoln Tunnel,
and I was whispering a prayer
that it not be today, not today, please
no shenanigans, no blasts, no terrors,
just please the rocking, slightly nauseating
gray ride, stop and start, chug-a
in the dim fellowship of smaller cars,
bumper lights flickering hello and warning.
Yes, please smile upon these good
people who want to enter the city and work.
Because work is good, actually, and life is good,
despite everything, and I don't mean to sound
spoiled, but please don't think I don't know
how grateful I should be
for what I do have —

I wonder whom I'm praying to.
Maybe Honest Abe himself,
craggy and splendid in his tall chair,
better than God to a kid;
Lincoln whose birthday I shared,
in whom I took secret pride: born, thus I was,
to be truthful, and love freedom.

Now with a silent collective sigh
steaming out into the broken winter sun,
up the ramp to greet buildings, blue brick
and brown stone and steel, candy-corn pylons
and curving guardrails massively bolted and men
in hard hats leaning on resting machines
with paper cups of coffee —

a cup of coffee, a modest thing to ask
Abe for,
dark, bitter, fresh
as an ordinary morning.


Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1848, James W. Marshall was building a sawmill for Captain John Sutter, using water from the South Fork of the American River, when he noticed several flakes of metal in the water and recognized them to be gold. Though he tried to keep it a secret, the word spread quickly, and triggered the California gold rush of 1849.

At the time, California was technically a part of Mexico. Coincidentally, just a little more than a week later, the United States and Mexico signed a treaty that led to the United States' purchase of the land that became California, as well as the other southwestern states. If Mexico had known about the discovery of gold on this day, they might never have sold all that land for just $15 million.

The reason the gold rush caused such a huge migration of people across the United States was that gold was a particularly easy mineral for ordinary people to mine. Gold has chemical properties that make it unlikely to combine with other minerals, so it is usually found relatively pure in nature. And because of its density, it would often get washed out of mountainsides in rivers, and then settle at the bottom of the river wherever the water was calm. So instead of having to build a huge mining operation, with lots of fancy machinery, ordinary people could just sift through the pebbles at the bottom of a stream, and if they were lucky, they'd find gold. The price of gold was about $20 an ounce at the time. If a riverbed contained gold, it was possible to pan out 10 ounces a day, earning more in a week than the average worker could earn in a year.

In the 10 years prior to 1848, only 2,700 people had settled in California. By the end of 1850, almost 200,000 people had moved there, and they did so even though California was 1,000 miles from the nearest state, Texas, and there were no major roads to get there.

By 1860, more than $600 million in gold had been mined out of California, but very few ordinary people actually made it rich. The riverbeds were panned out pretty quickly, and then the only way to get the gold was by using machines. But even though it didn't help many of the miners, the gold rush greatly increased government revenues, and helped build the American West. Some historians have argued that the gold from California even helped the North win the Civil War, since it was those gold revenues that helped fund the war effort.

One of the people who did manage to make a fortune from the gold rush was an immigrant from Bavaria named Levi Strauss. He was a traveling merchant, and he specialized in a sturdy brand of trousers made of sailcloth and held together with copper rivets. His pants were extremely popular, and they became the basis of modern blue jeans.


It's the birthday of Edith Wharton, (books by this author) born Edith Newbold Jones in New York City (1862). Her first great novel was The House of Mirth (1905), about the frustrated love affair between Lawrence Selden and a young woman named Lily Bart. She went on to write many more novels about frustrated love, including Ethan Frome (1911) and The Age of Innocence (1920), which was the first novel written by a woman ever to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Edith Wharton said, "Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope."




THURSDAY, 25 JANUARY, 2007
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Poems: "secret" and "understudy" by Beverly Rollwagen, from She Just Wants. © Nodin Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

secret

She just wants to know your secret.
She won't tell if you've had an affair,
or your face lifted, or when you last made
love. She won't tell if you're pilfering
from the office, or gambling when you're
supposed to be at the hospital visiting
your mother, or what you would do
for money. Strangers tell her the most
unlikely things, and she never repeats
them. Once, a woman told her she
carried a gun. Silver with a mother-of
pearl inlay on the handle, a little jewel.
She opened her purse, and the gun
rested in its own velvet pocket, ready and
dangerous. Like every secret.

understudy

She just wants an understudy, a body
double for the days when she does
not feel like appearing in any of the roles
she has assumed and/or been assigned.
She places an ad in the paper. Wanted:
one wife, mother, daughter, neighbor,
friend. Live-in OK. Own car necessary.
No lines to memorize; everything ad-
libbed. No days off.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Robert Burns, (books by this author) born in Alloway, Scotland (1759). Today, he is Scotland's national poet, although he started writing poetry to impress women. He later said, "My heart was completely tinder, and eternally lighted up by some Goddess or other."

As he got older, he watched how hard his father struggled to make a living as a farmer, suffering through bad weather and bad seed. Some years, his father had almost nothing to show for an entire year of backbreaking effort, and he died when Burns was 25 years old.

So Burns began to branch out from love poems to writing poems about the daily struggles of ordinary people. He was inspired by the traditional Scottish folk ballades his mother had sung him as a child, and he wrote in Scottish dialect rather than formal English.

And those poems made his name when he published them in his collection Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, which came out on the last day in July 1786. Word spread that he had written in the language of common people about common people, and farmers and maids began to save up their money to buy copies.

Burns spent much of the rest of his life traveling around the countryside collecting and rewriting the lyrics of folk songs for an anthology called The Scots Musical Museum. Because he considered the songs to be the property of all people, he refused to be paid for his work, and even for some of the most famous songs attributed to him, such as "Auld Lang Syne," he claimed only to have made corrections and additions.


It's the birthday of the novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf, (books by this author) born Virginia Stephen in London (1882). She never went to school, but her father chose books for her to read from his own library. Her brothers all went to the best universities, and she wrote letters to them about her reading. She was only allowed to move out of her family home after her father's death, when she was 22. She moved into a house with her brothers and sister, and instead of writing letters about what she'd been reading, she began to write literary criticism for the Times Literary Supplement, and she became one of the most accomplished literary critics of the era.

Woolf believed that the problem with 19th-century literature was that novelists had focused entirely on the clothing people wore and the food they ate and the things they did. She believed that the most mysterious and essential aspects of human beings were not their possessions or their habits, but their interior emotions and thoughts.

She considered her first few novels failures, but then in 1922, she began to read the work of Marcel Proust, who had just died that year. She wrote to a friend, "Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence. Oh if I could write like that!" Later that summer, she wrote in her diary, "There's no doubt in my mind, that I have found out how to begin (at 40) to say something in my own voice."

Woolf's next book was her first masterpiece: Mrs. Dalloway (1925) about all the thoughts that pass through the mind of a middle-aged woman on the day she gives a party. Woolf went on to write many more novels, including To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931), but she was also one of the greatest essayists of her generation. In her long essay about women and literature, A Room of One's Own (1929), she wrote: "So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery."




FRIDAY, 26 JANUARY, 2007
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Poem: "Religion" by Robert Wrigley, from Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems. © Penguin Poets. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Religion

The last thing the old dog brought home
from her pilgrimages through the woods
was a man's dress shoe, a black, still-shiny wing-tip.

I feared at first a foot might be in it.
But no, it was just an ordinary shoe.
And while it was clear it had been worn,

and because the mouth of the dog —
a retriever, skilled at returning ducks and geese —
was soft, the shoe remained a good shoe

and I might have given it
to a one-legged friend
but all of them dressed their prostheses too,

so there it was. A rescued
or a stolen odd shoe. Though in the last months
of the dog's life, I noticed

how the shoe became her friend, almost,
something she slept on or near
and nosed whenever she passed,

as though checking it to see if,
in her absence, that mysterious, familiar,
missing foot, might not have come again.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of cartoonist, novelist and playwright Jules Feiffer, (books by this author) born in the Bronx (1929).


It's the birthday of playwright Christopher Hampton, born on Fayal Island, one of the Azores (1946). He's best known in this country for his stage adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons (1982), which was made into a movie in 1987.


It's the birthday of the short-story writer Thom Jones, (books by this author) born in Aurora, Illinois (1945). His father was a professional boxer who once fought an exhibition match with Joe Louis. Jones's parents separated when he was little, but his father would occasionally show up and take Jones to a boxing gym. Jones was boxing by the time he was seven years old, and boxing would later indirectly save his life. When he joined the Marines after high school, he became a member of the Marine boxing team, and in one of his first fights, he took such a beating that he had to be discharged before he'd even seen combat in Vietnam. He later learned that all but one of the men in his unit had died in the war. One of the men from the unit who died was Jones's best friend.

Jones went on to get a degree in English from the University of Washington and then studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. He worked for a while as an advertising copy writer in Chicago, and for a long time he didn't write anything he was satisfied with. Then, in the early 1990s, the Gulf War began to bring back memories of Jones's experience as a Marine. When the anniversary of his best friend's death was coming around, Jones decided to write a short story based on what he knew of how his best friend had died. He started writing at 2:00 in the afternoon and by the middle of the night he'd finished the first draft. That story was called "The Pugilist at Rest." He sent it off to The New Yorker magazine, unsolicited, and somehow it got picked out of the slush pile and it was published. That story went on to win the O. Henry Award for short story of the year, and it became the title story of Jones's first collection, which came out in 1993, when Jones was 48 years old.

Thom Jones has written several more books since then, including Cold Snap (1995) and Sonny Liston Was a Friend of Mine (1999).


It's the birthday of children's book author and editor Mary Mapes Dodge, (books by this author) born Mary Mapes in New York City (1831). She was born into a prestigious New York family. Her grandfather was a personal friend of the Marquis de Lafayette. Her father was an inventor and an entrepreneur who planned to revolutionize the farming industry with new chemical fertilizers. One of the investors in his fertilizer idea was a man named William Dodge, who later married young Mary Mapes.

Mary Mapes Dodge lived with her husband in New York City for five years, and had two sons. Then one night in 1858, her husband left the house and never came back. It turned out that he had drowned, possibly a suicide. She was devastated and took her sons to live on her father's farm. She moved into a room in the attic, and began writing to try to make money for the family.

She had long been interested in writing something about Holland, although she'd never been there. She had some Dutch friends who had emigrated from Amsterdam, and she asked them to tell her everything they knew about their home country — what things looked like and smelled like, and the things people did and the food they ate and the stories they told their children at night. She used all of these details to write a children's book called Hans Brinker; or, The Silver Skates (1865), which became a best-seller.

She went on to edit the children's magazine St. Nicholas, one of the most successful children's publications of all time. It included work by writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Alfred Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain. The magazine also encouraged young people to submit stories and poems for publication. Among the writers who first published their work in St. Nicholas were Ring Lardner, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Eudora Welty, Edmund Wilson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.




SATURDAY, 27 JANUARY, 2007
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Poem: "A Boat beneath a Sunny Sky" by Lewis Carroll. Public domain. (buy now)

A Boat beneath a Sunny Sky

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, (books by this author) born in Salzburg, Austria (1756). His whole life was devoted to music. He was a child prodigy: by the time he was five he could perform difficult pieces on both piano and violin. He made a name for himself as a composer when he was in his teens, and went on to write some of the most popular operas of all time, including The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), and The Magic Flute (1791).

Mozart spent most of his adult life in Vienna, and made a living by teaching, publishing music, giving concerts, and composing. He was always pretty well-off for a musician — he had a carriage and servants, and lived in a nice apartment — but he spent money faster than he made it, and he often had to borrow from friends and relatives. He stayed close to his father throughout his life, and when his father died, Mozart fell into a deep depression. He stopped performing in public and relied on teaching to make ends meet.

He died four years later, at the age of 35, while he was in the middle of composing his last piece, Requiem in D, which he wrote as his own funeral march.


It's the birthday of composer Jerome Kern, (books by this author) born in New York City (1885). He wrote songs for more than 100 shows and movies, but he's best known for writing the music to the 1927 musical Show Boat.


We don't know the birthday of the poet Dante Alighieri, (books by this author) but today is the anniversary of one of the most pivotal days in his life. On this day in 1302, Dante learned that he had been exiled from Florence for his political sympathies. He would never see the city again. Dante was a member of the White Party, which wanted the city to remain independent from the influence of the Vatican, but the Blacks wanted to form an alliance with the Pope. Dante tried to help work out a compromise to avoid any real conflict. He traveled to Rome to negotiate with Pope Boniface about the situation, but while he was there, the Blacks launched an uprising and took over the city of Florence. Dante was actually on his way home when he got the news that he had been banished from the city. The government announced that Dante would be buried alive if he ever set foot in Florence again.

Dante spent the rest of his life wandering from city to city in northern and central Italy, estranged from his wife and kids and often living in poverty. His only solace during his exile was writing, and sometime around 1308, he started work on his epic poem, The Divine Comedy, and he spent the rest of his life working on it.

The poem was revolutionary in part because Dante chose to write in colloquial Italian rather that Latin, which had been the language for Western literature for more than a thousand years. It was also the first epic poem in Western literary history in which the author served as the main character.

Dante had hoped that the success of his poem would be so great that he would be invited back to his home city, but he wasn't. Just before his death, his children visited him in Ravenna; it was the first time he had seen them since he left Florence almost 20 years before. He died a few years later.


It's the birthday of the man who wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871), Lewis Carroll, (books by this author) born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in Cheshire, England (1832). When he was 24 years old, a new dean arrived at the school where Carroll worked, and the dean brought his three daughters, Lorina Charlotte, Edith, and Alice. Carroll befriended the three girls and began spending a lot of time with them. In July of 1862, while floating in a rowboat on a pond, he came up with the story of a girl's adventures in a magical underground world, and told it to the three girls. Carroll always remembered that day. Late in his life he wrote, "I can call it up almost as clearly as if it were yesterday — the cloudless blue above, the watery mirror below, the boat drifting idly on its way, the tinkle of the drops that fell from the oars, as they waved so sleepily to and fro, and (the one bright gleam of life in all the slumberous scene) the three eager faces, hungry for news of fairy-land ..."

Many biographers have made out Carroll to be a shy, awkward recluse who was only comfortable around young girls, but he was actually charming and sociable. Even though he never married, many of his friends were young women, and he wrote several love poems to them. He loved to hold dinner parties, and even made detailed charts of where his guests sat at the table and what they had to eat. He often went to the theater and to art exhibitions, and he took an extensive tour of Russia with his friend. He also wrote about 97,000 letters in his lifetime.




SUNDAY, 28 JANUARY, 2007
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Poem: "Forgets His Littleness" by Don Marquis, from The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel. © Penguin Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Forgets His Littleness

if all the bugs
in all the worlds
twixt earth and betelgoose
should sharpen up
their little strings
and turn their feelings loose
they soon would show
all human beans
in saturn
earth
or mars
their relative significance
among the spinning stars
man is so proud
the haughty simp
so hard for to approach
and he looks down
with such an air
on spider
midge
or roach
the supercilious silliness
of this poor wingless bird
is cosmically comical
and stellarly absurd
his scutellated occiput
has holes somewhere inside
and there no doubt
two pints or so
of scrambled brains reside
if all the bugs
of all the stars
should sting him on the dome
they might pierce through
that osseous rind
and find the brains at home
and in the convolutions lay
an egg with fancies fraught
which
germinating rapidly
might turn into a thought
might turn into the thought
that men
and insects are the same
both transient flecks
of starry dust
that out of nothing came
the planets are
what atoms are
and neither more nor less
man s feet have grown
so big that he
forgets his littleness
the things he thinks
are only things
that insects always knew
the things he does
are stunts that we
don t have to think to do
he spent a score
of centuries
in getting feeble wings
which we instinctively
acquired
with other trivial things
the day is coming
very soon
when man and all his race
must cast their silly
pride aside
and take the second place
i ll take the bugs
of all the stars
and tell them of my plan
and fling them with
their myriad stings
against the tyrant man
dear boss this outburst
is the result
of a personal insult
as so much verse always is
maybe you know how
that is yourself
i dropped into an irish
stew in a restaurant
the other evening
for a warm bath and a bite
to eat and a low browed
waiter plucked me out
and said to me
if you must eat i will
lead you to the
food i have especially prepared
for you and he took me
to the kitchen
and tried to make me
fill myself with
a poisonous concoction
known cynically as roach food
can you wonder
that my anger
against the whole human
race has blazed forth in
song when the revolution
comes i shall
do my best to save
you you have so many
points that are far
from being human


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the English novelist and critic David Lodge, (books by this author) born in London, England (1935). He's the author of The Picturegoers (1960), Ginger, You're Barmy (1962), and The British Museum is Falling Down (1970), and other comic novels, many of them set in the fictional town of Rummidge.


It's the birthday of the French novelist Colette, born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, France (1873). She is best known as the author of Cheri (1920) and Gigi (1945).


It's the birthday of Jackson Pollock, (books by this author) born in Cody, Wyoming (1912). He is best known for his innovations in abstract impressionist painting. He was often called "Jack the Dripper" because of his radical painting style. He was deeply influenced by Pablo Picasso's work, and the work of surrealist painters, and this led Pollock to experiment with his painting.


It's the birthday of one of the most popular living religious writers in the world, Rick Warren, (books by this author) born in Redwood Valley, California (1954). He's the author of The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?, which has sold more than 25 million copies since it came out in 2003, making it the best-selling nonfiction hardcover in American history. He's one of the founders of the megachurch phenomenon. His church in Saddleback Valley, California has more than 20,000 members. He has given 90 percent of all the proceeds from The Purpose Driven Life to charity.




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