Oct. 27, 2002

In My Craft or Sullen Art

by Dylan Thomas

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Poem: "In My Craft or Sullen Art," by Dylan Thomas from The Poems of Dylan Thomas (New Directions).

In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

It's the birthday of President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt, born in New York City (1858). He was the first American to win a Nobel Prize, being awarded the Peace Prize in 1906. He is the author of the four-volume The Winning Of The West.

It's the birthday of comic actor and writer John Cleese, born in Weston-Super-Mare, England (1939). He co-wrote and starred in the Monty Python productions, and the hit British show Fawlty Towers, among other things.

It's the birthday of Roy Lichtenstein, pop art painter, born in New York City (1923).

On this day in 1904, the first rapid-transit subway system opened in New York City. 100,000 New Yorkers spent a nickel on their very first ride. The opening ceremony began with a morning of oratory at City Hall. Then, at precisely 2:35 pm, the first subway train emerged from City Hall station with Mayor McClellan at the controls. He said, "Now I, as Mayor, in the name of the people, declare the subway open!" The inaugural express took 26 minutes to then arrive at its destination at 145th Street. It opened to the general public at 7 pm. By the end of the evening, the system had tunneled over 150,000 passengers around the city.

It's the birthday of poet Sylvia Plath, born in Boston (1932), the daughter of German immigrant parents. Her posthumous book, Ariel, is one of the best-selling volumes of poetry in the 20th century. On the first day of her creative writing class at Smith College, Professor Alfred Kazin looked over her writing sample and asked her, "If you can write like this, why the dickens do you need a creative writing class?" She replied, "I'm lonesome here, and I want to talk to you." She said, "Life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter-they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship-but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering."

It's the birthday of poet Dylan Thomas, born in Swansea, Wales (1914). At age 20, he moved to London and published his first book of poetry, 18 Poems (1934). During WWII, he worked for Strand Films. After the war, he wrote, narrated, or took part in over 100 BBC programs. He published several books of his poems, including The Map of Love, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, and Collected Poems. In 1952 and 1953, he toured the United States on a lecture series, until his collapse in New York City (outside the White Horse Tavern) and subsequent death from alcohol poisoning. Dylan fought a drinking problem throughout his life, and once, at a party, he was drinking and talking freely for some time. Suddenly, he stopped talking and said: "Somebody's boring me. I think it's me." Thomas was friends with the poet Donald Hall. Hall was once complaining about a newspaper critic who used the phrase "death-wish," and Hall said, "What a dumb idea anyway. Who wants to die?" Thomas replied, "Oh, I do," and when Hall asked him why, he said, "Just for a change."

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