Feb. 27, 2003

Ultima Thule: Dedication to G.W.G.

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Poem: "Ultima Thule: Dedication to G.W.G.," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Ultima Thule: Dedication to G.W.G.

With favoring winds, o'er sunlit seas,
We sailed for the Hesperides,
The land where golden apples grow;
But that, ah! that was long ago.

How far, since then, the ocean streams
Have swept us from that land of dreams,
The land of fiction and of truth,
The lost Atlantis of our youth!

Whither, ah, whither? Are not these
The tempest-haunted Orcades,
Where sea-gulls scream, and breakers roar,
And wreck and sea-weed line the shore?

Ultima Thule! Utmost Isle!
Here in thy harbors for a while
We lower our sails; a while we rest
From the unending, endless quest.

Literary Notes:

The poet Kenneth Koch was born on this day in Cincinnati, Ohio (1925), who, along with John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara, became part of the "New York School" of poets in the 1950s.

It's the birthday of novelist Lawrence Durrell, born in Jullundur, India (1912). He is best known for his series of books called The Alexandria Quartet, published between 1957 and 1960.

It's the birthday of novelist Irwin Shaw, born in New York City (1913). He wrote many short stories for The New Yorker magazine. He became famous in 1948 with the publication of his book, The Young Lions, although his most commercially successful novel was Rich Man, Poor Man (1970).

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer Peter De Vries, born in Chicago, Illinois (1910), who has made a career of satirizing society's shortcomings. His best-known books include The Blood of the Lamb (1962), Slouching towards Kalamazoo (1983), and Peckham's Marbles (1986). He said, "Anyone informed that the universe is expanding and contracting in pulsations of eighty billion years has a right to ask, 'What's in it for me?'"

It's the birthday of novelist, short story writer, and social critic James T(homas) Farrell, born in Chicago, Illinois (1904). While studying at the University of Chicago, he wrote a story called Studs, which he later expanded into Young Lonigan (1932), a semi-autobiographical novel about a troubled fifteen-year-old growing up in Chicago. It opens, "Studs Lonigan, on the verge of fifteen, and wearing his first suit of long trousers, stood in the bathroom with a Sweet Caporal pasted in his mug. His hands were jammed in his trouser pockets, and he sneered. He puffed, drew the fag out of his mouth, inhaled and said to himself: 'Well I'm kissin' the old dump goodbye tonight.'"

It's the birthday of novelist John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California (1902). His most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), won the 1940 Pulitzer Prize. The novel tells the story of the Joads, a poor Oklahoma farming family, who migrate to California in search of a better life during the Great Depression of the 1930's. Through the inspiration of the labor organizer Jim Casy, the Joads learn that the poor must work together in order to survive. While he developed his writing career, Steinbeck worked many jobs, as a manual laborer, a caretaker, a surveyor, and a fruit-picker. Steinbeck set much of his fiction in and around his birthplace of Salinas. He wrote The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and Tortilla Flat (1935) and Of Mice and Men (1937), about Lennie and George.

It's the birthday of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, born in Portland, Maine (1807). He was the most popular poet in America during the nineteenth century. A number of his phrases, such as "ships that pass in the night," "the patter of little feet," and "I shot an arrow into the air, it fell to earth, I know not where" have become common sayings. Longfellow was one of the first American writers to use native themes. He wrote about the American scene and landscape. He wrote about the American Indian in "Song of Hiawatha," and about American history and tradition in "The Courtship of Miles Standish," "Evangeline," and, of course, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." He taught modern languages at Bowdoin College, his alma mater and then at Harvard where he was quite a romantic figure, with flowing hair and yellow gloves and flowered waistcoats. Eventually, the success of his poems allowed to him to make a living for himself and his family. He became one of America's first writers to support himself through his own work.

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