Jun. 8, 2003

When You Are Old

by William Butler Yeats

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "When You Are Old," by William Butler Yeats from Selected Poems and Four Plays (Scribner).

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, Scott Adams, born in Catskill, New York (1957).

It's the birthday of John W. Campbell, called "the father of science fiction," born in Newark, New Jersey (1910). His first published story, "When the Atoms Failed" (1930), contained one of the earliest depictions of computers.

It's the birthday of biophysicist Francis Crick, born in Northampton, England (1916). On February 28, 1953, Crick walked into the Eagle pub in Cambridge, England, and, according to James Watson, announced that "we had found the secret of life." That morning, Watson and Crick had figured out the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, the chemical substance that carries our genes.

It's the birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect, born in Richland Center, Wisconsin (1869). He said, "Give me the luxuries of life and I will willingly do without the necessities."

The prophet Mohammed died on this day in 632. He rode a white horse named Al-Borak to Heaven. Al-Borak, which means "the lightning," was brought to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. It had the face and voice of a man but the cheeks of a horse. It had the wings of an eagle, the tail of a peacock, and each stride went as far as a person could see.

Mark Twain took a famous ride of his own on this day in 1867. He boarded the side-wheel steamer "The Quaker City," and set off on a five-month trip to Europe and the Mediterranean. This had never been done before -- a transatlantic pleasure cruise on a steamship -- and when Twain heard about the idea he asked the San Francisco newspaper the Alta-California if they wanted to send him as their correspondent. They did, for twelve hundred dollars passage money and twenty dollars for each letter he sent home. Those letters made him famous, and in 1868 he published them in a book called Innocents Abroad, or The New Pilgrims' Progress, the most popular travel book of his time. In Innocents Abroad, he wrote:

We wish to learn all the curious, outlandish ways of all the different countries, so that we can "show off" and astonish people when we get home. We wish to excite the envy of our untraveled friends with our strange foreign fashions which we can't shake off. All our passengers are paying strict attention to this thing, with the end in view which I have mentioned. The gentle reader will never, never know what a consummate ass he can become, until he goes abroad (ch. 26).

He traveled to Paris and described the dancing of the can-can, and he went to Rome where he became bored looking at the works of Michelangelo. But he truly loved travel, loved the pleasure of discovery. Mark Twain wrote, "To be the first -- that is the idea."

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




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