Feb. 21, 2002

Inscription for a War

by W. H. Auden

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Poem: "Inscription for a War," A.D. Hope from Collected Poems: 1930-1970 (Harper Collins Australia).

Inscription for a War

Stranger, go tell the Spartans
we died here obedient to their commands.
-Inscription at Thermopylae

Linger not, stranger; shed no tear;
Go back to those who sent us here.

We are the young they drafted out
To wars their folly brought about.

Go tell those old men, safe in bed,
We took their orders and are dead.

It's the birthday of newspaper columnist and best-selling author Erma Bombeck, born in Dayton, Ohio (1927). After graduating college she became a columnist for the Dayton Journal Herald. She soon left that position to stay home and raise her children. When her third child started school, Bombeck returned to her writing because she was, as she put it, "too old for a paper route, too young for Social Security, and too tired for an affair." She went on to write several best-selling books, including The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank (1976) and If Life is a Bowl of Cherries-What Am I Doing in the Pits? (1978). Bombeck, who said: "It goes without saying that you should never have more children than you have car windows."

On this day in 1925, the first issue of the New Yorker magazine came out.

It's the birthday of poet W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden, born in York, England (1907). He moved to America in the late 1930s and became an American citizen. He wrote many, many poems and was the librettist for Benjamin Britton's opera Paul Bunyan, as well as for Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress.

It's the birthday of writer and diarist Anais Nin, born in Neuilly, France (1903), who is probably most famous for writings that were never intended for public viewing. During her lifetime, Nin wrote more than thirty-five thousand pages of diaries, spanning the years from 1914 to 1974. Even though she had published essays, criticism, and fiction since the 1930s, she came to literary prominence in America in 1966 when the first volume of her diary was published. She was a woman who had a good deal to write in her diaries: she had passionate love affairs with both Henry Miller (author of Tropic of Cancer) and his wife, June.

It's the birthday of writer Raymond Queneau, born in Le Havre, France (1903). Influenced by the Surrealist movement in the 1920s, Queneau was the first French novelist to write language the way it was spoken on the street, regardless of syntax and grammar. His book, Exercises in Style (1947), recounts a brief and ordinary encounter on a bus ninety-nine different ways, including in prose, in free verse, as a sonnet, and as a play. His best-known work is Zazie (1959; filmed by Louis Malle in 1960).

It's the birthday of publisher Charles Scribner, born in New York City (1821). With Isaac Baker he founded the publishing firm of Baker and Scribner, which was called Charles Scribner's Sons from 1878. The firm published such prominent American authors as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe.

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