Apr. 29, 2003

Everyone Sang

by Siegfried Sassoon

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Poem: "Everyone Sang," by Siegfried Sassoon.

Everyone Sang

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on; on; and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted,
And beauty came like the setting sun.
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away…O but every one
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing
      will never be done.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Rafael Sabatini, born on Jesi, in the marches of central Italy (1875). He lived in England and is known to us today as the author of the novel Captain Blood (1922). But most critics consider his novel about the French Revolution Scaramouche (1921) to be his masterpiece. It begins, "He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony."

It's the birthday of poet Yusef Komunyakaa, born James Willie Brown Jr. in Bogalusa, Louisiana (1947). He won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection Neon Vernacular (1993) and he is considered by many critics to be one of the most important African-American poets writing today.

It's the birthday of editor and publisher Robert Gottlieb, born in New York City (1931). Growing up, he did almost nothing but read. He read three to four books a day after school, and could read for sixteen hours at a time. As a teenager he read War and Peace in one day, and while attending Columbia University, he read Marcel Proust's six volume Remembrance of Things Past in seven days. He got a job at Simon and Schuster and his first major project was a manuscript by a man named Joseph Heller with the working title of "Catch 18." Because there was another book in the works entitled Mila 18, Gottlieb suggested that Heller change his title to Catch-22. Gottlieb went on to edit Doris Lessing, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, and many others. He also served briefly as the editor of the New Yorker magazine.

It's the birthday of Emperor Hirohito, born in Tokyo (1901). He was the Emperor of Japan during World War II, and the Japanese people believed that he was a living god. Historians disagree about whether he supported Japan's expansionist policies, but Allied propaganda made him out to be as evil as Hitler. After the war was over, Hirohito was allowed to remain emperor, to help stabilize his country, though he lost most of his power. When he announced the surrender of Japanese forces over the radio on August 15, 1945, it was the first time that his voice had ever been recorded or broadcast. People across Japan gathered around their radios to hear him. Unfortunately, they couldn't understand him, because he spoke in an ancient form of Japanese. Throughout the reconstruction of his country, he always appeared in public wearing shabby ill-fitting suits, to show, symbolically, that he shared the hardships of his people.

It's the birthday of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, born in Brooklyn, New York (1954). He grew up in the Long Island town of Massapequa. He knew he wanted to be a comedian in his early teens. The first time he ever did stand up comedy, he panicked and forgot what he was planning to talk about. After forty seconds of silence, he finally remembered his topics but couldn't remember what to say about them so he just said, "The beach. Driving. Shopping." He became famous for his role on the TV show, Seinfeld, which was one of the first American sitcoms that was totally free of morality. He had two rules for every episode: "No hugging," and "No learning."

The founder and namesake of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, Matthew Vassar, was born on this day in Norfolk, England (1792). He made a fortune in the brewing business and, inspired by his niece, Lydia Booth, created the first women's college. On February 26, 1861, he presented the College Board with a small tin box. It contained half of his fortune, $408,000, and a deed of conveyance for 200 acres of land for the college site and farm. Vassar Female College opened in September 1865 with 353 students and a faculty of 30. Courses ranged from botany to music, with an annual fee for tuition and residence of less than $400. The students would sing, "And so you see, to old V.C., Our love shall never fail. Full well we know that all we owe, to Matthew Vassar's ale."

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