Jun. 9, 2002

Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats

by Walt Whitman

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Poem: "Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats," by Walt Whitman.

Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats

Ah poverties, wincings, and sulky retreats,
Ah you foes that in conflict have overcome me,
(For what is my life or any man's life but a conflict with foes,
the old, the incessant war?)
You degradations, you tussle with passions and appetites,
You smarts from dissatisfied friendships, (ah wounds the
sharpest of all!)
You toil of painful and choked articulations, you meannesses,
You shallow tongue-talks at tables, (my tongue the shallowest of
You broken resolutions, you racking angers, you smother'd
Ah think not you finally triumph, my real self has yet to come
It shall yet march forth o'ermastering, till all lies beneath me,
It shall yet stand up the soldier of ultimate victory.

It's the birthday of Patricia Cornwell, born in Miami, Florida (1956). She's the author of thirteen mysteries about a medical examiner named Kay Scarpetta. When she started writing mysteries and submitting them to publishers, they were returned. She wrote one sympathetic editor to ask what she could do to improve them, and the editor told her to dump the male detective she had written about and say more about a minor character called Kay Scarpetta. The next novel Cornwell wrote, Postmortem (1990), won five major mystery prizes, the first time any book had landed all five the same year. Her books have a reputation for grisly realism, which she supports with exhaustive research.

It's the birthday of S. N. Behrman, born in Worcester, Massachusetts (1893). He went to Harvard and studied playwriting in George Baker Pierce's workshop. Behrman wrote twenty-one plays, all comedies, wrote essays and criticism for the New Yorker, and later went to Hollywood, where he wrote the screenplays for Anna Karenina, The Tale of Two Cities, and Ninotchka.

It's the birthday of Cole Porter, born in Peru, Indiana (1891). A music teacher at boarding school taught him to write songs in which the words and the music were ingeniously wedded, and by the time Porter graduated from Yale he had produced six full-scale musical revues and hundreds of songs. Porter's lyrics were dry, witty, and contained a fair amount of sexual innuendo. He liked to write songs backwards, starting from the punch-line in the final verse and working back toward the beginning. In 1935 he set out on a round- the-world cruise equipped with a piano, twenty-four pencils, a stack of music paper, and three cases of champagne, and returned with "Begin the Beguine." Some of his shows were flops, but at least one tune from every show became a standard.

On this day in 1870, Charles Dickens dropped from his chair at the dinner table and died of apoplexy, as strokes were called then. He was fifty-eight. Queen Victoria sent a telegram the next day, and news of his demise spread all over the British Empire. He had hoped to be buried at home, but the Dean of Westminster Abbey told the family that a place had been prepared for him in the Poet's Corner, and he was buried there. In the last year before his death he had undertaken a punishing series of public readings at theatres in the United States, and his letters from that time complain of fatigue and insomnia. Yet he enjoyed doing the readings, and they brought in a lot of money.

On this day in 1628, William Bradstreet exiled Thomas Morton from New England. The settlement elders charged Morton with "licentiousness," and accused Morton of selling weapons to the Indians. The people of Morton's settlement had offended Bradstreet's Separatist Puritans by erecting a Maypole, dancing around it, and "tippling with quick dexterity." Morton saved most of his praise for the Indians: "[T]hese people lead the more happy and freer life, being voyde of care, which torments the mindes of so many Christians: they are not delighted in baubles, but in usefull things."

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