Sep. 8, 2002

The Yak

by Hilaire Belloc

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Poem: "The Yak," by Hilaire Belloc.

The Yak

As a friend to the children
              commend me the Yak.
        You will find it exactly the thing:
It will carry and fetch,
              you can ride on its back,
Or lead it about
                    with a string.
The Tartar who dwells on the plains of Thibet
        (A desolate region of snow)
Has for centuries made it a nursery pet,
        And surely the Tartar should know!
Then tell your papa where the Yak can be got
        And if he is awfully rich
He will buy you the creature -
              or else
                      he will not.
(I cannot be positive which.)

On this day in 1974, President Gerald R. Ford granted a "full, free, and absolute pardon" to former President Richard Nixon, for his role in the Watergate scandal. In his statement on the pardon, President Ford said: "I do believe that the buck stops here and that I cannot rely upon public opinion polls to tell me what is right. I do believe that right makes might, and that if I am wrong ten angels swearing that I was right would make no difference. I do believe with all my heart and mind and spirit that I, not as President, but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy."

On this day in 1966, the television series Star Trek premiered on NBC. The show, created by Gene Roddenberry, ran for only three seasons. It gathered a loyal following after it began to run in syndication, and in 1987 spawned a new television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. The original series also yielded a long-running movie franchise: the tenth Star Trek movie, Nemesis, is opening in December.

It's the birthday of novelist Ann Beattie, born in Washington, D.C. (1947). She was doing graduate work in English at the University of Connecticut when frustration with her dissertation made her put it aside to work on short stories. She was rejected by the New Yorker twenty-two times before they published her story, "A Platonic Relationship," in 1974. Her latest book is the novel The Doctor's House (2002).

It's the birthday of British novelist and playwright Michael Frayn, born in London (1933). He worked as a journalist and London, and published three novels before writing his first play, The Two of Us (1970). Despite strong performances by Lynne Redgrave and Richard Briars, the play was a disaster-the playwright had to endure being spat on by audience members out in the street after the performance. Frayn was undeterred, and went on to write a number of successful plays, including Clouds (1976), Donkey's Years (1977), and the popular Noises Off (1982). His latest play, hailed as his masterpiece, is Copenhagen, which dramatizes a 1941 meeting between German physicist Werner Heisenberg and his Danish mentor, Niels Bohr. Michael Frayn said: "It's difficult writing fiction, but when you get going writing fiction, a fictitious world does kind of assemble in your head and it fits easily into words, because it's a fiction after all. And I suppose you can always get around difficulties, if you can't do it this way, you can do it another way. But when you have to describe some real thing, it always turns out to be hideously complicated. Nothing will tie together. It won't make a story. It won't make a plot. It won't tie up. And that is the difficulty of the world from the point of the writer. It's not in words. It's tree-shaped and cloud-shaped and room-shaped. It's not word-shaped."

It's the birthday of "The Singing Brakeman," country and western singer (Jimmie) Jimmy Rodgers, born James Charles Rodgers in Meridian, Mississippi (1897). He dropped out of school when he was fourteen to work on the railroad, where he learned to play guitar and banjo, and where he developed a music sound that combined blues, hobo, and cowboy styles. His recordings on RCA Victor, beginning in 1927, made him a star and helped establish the popularity of country and western music.

It's the birthday of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak, born near Kralupy, Czechoslovakia (1841). He left school at twelve to learn the butchery trade from his father, but soon left home to study music. He studied at the Prague Organ School, and then landed a position as the director of a small band that played at restaurants and balls. He began to teach music and to compose, and at the age of thirty-one gained national attention for his patriotic cantata, Hymnus (1873). He went on to compose nine symphonies, numerous chamber works, operas, and concertos. His most popular works include the Ninth Symphony, known as the "New World Symphony;" the Slavonic Dances; the cello concerto, and the opera Russalka. He spent the years from 1892 to 1895 in America, as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. He spent the summer of 1893 in the north-east Iowa town of Spillville, the home to a large Czech immigrant community. While he was there, he composed two string quartets, in F and in E-flat, known as "The American" quartets.

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