Jan. 16, 2003

The Choice

by John Pomfret

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Poem: From "The Choice," by John Pomfret.

from The Choice

That life may be more comfortable yet,
And all my joys refined, sincere and great,
I'd choose two friends, whose company would be
A great advance to my felicity:
Well-born, of humours suited to my own;
Discreet, and men, as well as books, have known.
Brave, generous, witty, and exactly free
From loose behavior or formality.
Airy and prudent, merry, but not light;
Quick in discerning, and in judging right.
Secret they should be, faithful to their trust;
In reasoning cool, strong, temperate and just;
Obliging, open, without huffing, brave,
Brisk in gay talking, and in sober, grave;
Close in dispute, but not tenacious, tried
By solid reason, and let that decide;
Not prone to lust, revenge, or envious hate,
Nor busy meddlers with intrigues of state;
Strangers to slander, and sworn foes to spite:
Not quarrelsome, but stout enough to fight
Loyal and pious, friends to Caesar, true
As dying martyrs to their Maker too.
In their society, I could not miss
A permanent, sincere, substantial bliss.

It's the birthday of poet Robert Service, born in Preston, Lancashire, England (1874). He's best known for the poems "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," and "The Cremation of Sam McGee," and other works about life among the sourdoughs in the Yukon. He didn't spend very much of his life in Canada, though, and although he wrote about miners, he wasn't a miner himself-when he lived in Whitehorse, he was a bank teller. The Gold Rush was already over, and most of the prospectors had left. He liked to recite poems at church socials, and sold a couple of poems to the local newspaper. "Give us something about our own bit of earth," the newspaper editor told him. "There's a rich paystreak waiting for someone to work." That very Saturday night, Service got the idea for his poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew. It eventually sold three million copies; the royalty checks from publishers never stopped coming. He became a war correspondent, fell in love with a woman he bumped into while watching a parade in Paris, and spent the rest of his life in a villa in France.

From "The Shooting of Dan McGrew"
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was hi light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou.
When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave, and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger's face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was dangerous Dan McGrew.

It's the birthday of William Kennedy, born in Albany (1928). His first novel, The Ink Truck, came out in 1969, and didn't sell very well. Thirteen publishers rejected Ironweed (1984), about a derelict on the run from his own past. But it won the Pulitzer, the National Book Critic's Circle Award, and a Pen/Faulkner award, all in the same year. William Kennedy said "The more serious you are as a writer, the more you feel yourself an outsider."

It's the birthday of critic and novelist Susan Sontag, born in New York City (1933). She wrote the widely anthologized essay "Notes on Camp," and a study called Illness as Metaphor (1978).

It's the birthday of Dian Fossey, born in San Francisco (1932). She lived alone for eighteen years, studying mountain gorillas in the cold and rainy mountains of Rwanda; she wrote Gorillas in the Mist (1983) about her work there.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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