Jul. 24, 2002

A Slice of Wedding Cake

by Robert Graves

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Poem: "A Slice of Wedding Cake," by Robert Graves from The New Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1950 (Oxford University Press).

A Slice of Wedding Cake

Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls
      Married impossible men?
Simple self-sacrifice may be ruled out,
      And missionary endeavour, nine times out of ten.

Repeat 'impossible men': not merely rustic,
      Foul-tempered or depraved
(Dramatic foils chosen to show the world
      How well women behave, and always have behaved).

Impossible men: idle, illiterate,
      Self-pitying, dirty, sly,
For whose appearance even in City parks
      Excuses must be made to casual passers-by.

Has God's supply of tolerable husbands
      Fallen, in fact, so low?
Or do I always over-value woman
      At the expense of man?
                                          Do I?
                                                  It might be so.

It's the birthday of feminist politician Bella (Savitzky) Abzug, born in the Bronx, New York, in 1920. She became a lawyer, represented union workers, and defended leftist cases. She served three terms in the House of Representatives.

It's the birthday of mystery writer John D. MacDonald, born in Sharon, Pennsylvania, in 1916. His famous detective character Travis McGee first appeared in 1964 in The Deep Blue Good-Bye. One of MacDonald's trademarks was the use of a color in the title of each of his books: Dress Her in Indigo (1969), The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968), and The Lonely Silver Rain (1985). He wrote daily, for 7 to 9 hours, taking a break for lunch and another for the cocktail hour. He said, "Most of my published novels are of the folk dancing category, the steps, the patterns traditionally imperative, the retributions obligatory."

It's the birthday of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1900. She was courted by F. Scott Fitzgerald, who, to prove himself and win her hand, rewrote a novel he had begun at Princeton. In 1920, This Side of Paradise was published and Zelda married him. Zelda wrote one novel, Save Me the Waltz in 1932, which is about a southern belle who marries a flamboyant writer in order to escape her father's suffocating morality. The writer becomes fabulously successful, but then withdraws into his art, making him as distant to her as her father had been.

It's the birthday of aviator Amelia Earhart, born in Atchison, Kansas, in 1897. She was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic (in 1932). Next, she flew solo on the longer flight from Hawaii to California-the first person to manage that hazardous route (in 1935). Then, in 1937, she set out to fly around the world. After making it more than two-thirds of the way, she disappeared in the central Pacific, near the international dateline.

It's the birthday of poet Robert Graves, born in London in 1895. His passion was poetry, but he wrote novels to support himself: "Prose books are the show dogs I breed and sell to support my cat." He wrote historical novels such as I, Claudius (published in 1934) and Claudius the God (published in 1934), as well as his memoir about WWI, Goodbye to All That (published in 1929). He said, "Nine-tenths of English poetic literature is the result either of vulgar careerism or of a poet trying to keep his hand in. Most poets are dead by their late twenties."

On this day in 1847, Brigham Young, leading a band of 147 Mormon pioneers, arrived at the present site of Salt Lake City. He had his carriage driven from the trail to a high point from which he could survey the view. "Enough," he said. "This is the place."

It's the birthday of novelist Alexandre Dumas the Elder, born in Villers-Cotterêts, France in 1802. He wrote The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and other works.

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