Jan. 19, 2003

To Helen

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Poem: "To Helen," by Edgar Allan Poe

To Helen

Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently, o'er a perfum'd sea,
The weary, way-worn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy Naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
And the grandeur that was Rome.
Lo ! in yon brilliant window-niche
How statue-like I see thee stand!
The agate lamp within thy hand,
Ah! Psyche from the regions which
Are Holy land !

It's the birthday of Julian Barnes, born in Leicester, England (1946). He's the author of The History of the World in Ten-and-a-Half Chapters (1989) and Flaubert's Parrot (1984); the latter won prizes for fiction in both England and France. Both of his parents were French teachers, and they spent their vacations driving around the French countryside.

It's the birthday of Patricia Highsmith, born in Fort Worth, Texas (1921). She wrote suspense novels in which unspeakable crimes often turned out to have been committed by unexpectedly mild-mannered people. Although Alfred Hitchcock filmed her first novel, Strangers on a Train, Hollywood wasn't interested in any of the others; they were too morally ambiguous. Many of the characters were homosexual; good characters weren't necessarily rewarded, and murderers weren't necessarily punished. Her work sold much better in Europe, and she spent most of the rest of her life there, living as a semi-recluse with a menagerie of cats and dogs. Finally, after her death in 1995, her novel The Talented Mr. Ripley was made into a film, forty-five years after its original publication.

It's the birthday of Alexander Woollcott, born in Phalanx, New Jersey (1887). He was critic and writer for the early New Yorker and a model for the tyrannical character Sheridan Whiteside in the play The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939).

It's the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, born in Boston, Massachusetts (1809). His parents died while he was still a baby, and although he was taken in by a man who eventually made a large fortune, he was disowned after a series of bitter arguments with his foster father. He continued to charm possible sponsors for the rest of his life. Rich men and women would offer to help him, but they withdrew when he got drunk at the wrong time, or refused to say what they wanted him to, or squandered the funds they had given him. He wrote pointed criticism at a time when reviews were supposed to be complimentary; when he was able to publish his own work, the writers he criticized took the opportunity to revenge themselves upon him. Nothing he published won him much attention until his poem "The Raven" appeared in the New York Evening Mirror in 1845. Children followed him down the street chanting "Nevermore, nevermore!" and he was asked to recite the poem at all sorts of gatherings. He was also a journalist and edited the Broadway Journal. About New York Poe wrote, "I have been roaming far and wide over this island of Manhattan. Some portions of its interior have a certain air of rocky sterility which may impress some imaginations as simply dreary-to me it conveys the sublime."

It's the birthday of James Watt, born in Greenock, Scotland (1736). There were steam engines before Watt became interested in them, but they couldn't do much real work; too much steam was lost when it condensed inside the chamber as it cooled, and the engines used too much coal to be worthwhile. Watt became obsessed with the problem, and spent two years making little model steam engines, one after another. He solved the condensation problem and that is what made him famous.

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




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