Jun. 13, 2003

To An Isle In The Water

by William Butler Yeats

FRIDAY, 13 JUNE 2003
(RealAudio) | How to listen

"To An Isle In The Water," by William Butler Yeats from Selected Poems (Scribner Paperback Poetry)

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of British novelist Fanny Burney, born in Norfolk, England in 1752. In 1778 she published her first novel, Evelina, or a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, which she said was supposed to teach young people right from wrong. She wrote two more novels, Cecilia (1782) and Camilla (1796) and had a huge influence on the young Jane Austen.

It's the birthday of British writer Dorothy Leigh Sayers, born in Oxford in 1893. She's best known as the creator of the amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who appeared in eleven mystery novels and 21 short stories and said, "Once you've got the How, the Why drives it home." Dorothy mastered French and Latin by the time she was seven years old, and in 1920 she became one of the first women to get a degree from Oxford University. She went to work writing advertising copy, joined a motorcycle gang, fell in love with one of its members, and bore him a son whom she kept secret from most of the world. She was writing poetry but decided to start writing mystery novels to make some money. Her Lord Peter Wimsey novels were a big hit in England and were admired as much for their literary tone as for their entertainment value. She was famous for coming up with outrageous causes of death like poisoned teeth fillings, a cat with poisoned claws, and a dagger made of ice.

It's the birthday of American poet and critic Mark Van Doren, born in Hope, Illinois in 1894. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his poetry in 1939 and is also known for his critical studies on writers like Geoffrey Chaucer, John Dryden, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. He taught for many years at Columbia University, where his students included Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Stanley Kubrick. He wrote the influential book about higher education in America, Liberal Education (1943). Mark Van Doren who, near the end of his life, wrote, "I should not like to think I am complacent, or lucky, or deluded, or merely pleased. It is more positive than that. By some odd chance and for no good reason I am happy."

It's the birthday of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, born in Dublin, Ireland in 1865. His father was a well-known painter, and he split his childhood between the beautiful countryside of County Sligo in the west of Ireland, and the bustling city life of London. In 1885, Yeats published his first poems in a Dublin literary magazine. Four years later, he met the woman who would become his poetic muse for the rest of his life, Maud Gonne. She was a revolutionary who wanted Irish freedom from British rule, and one of her main goals was to revive Celtic heritage through Irish language and literature. Yeats took up her cause in the hope of winning her hand, at which he was unsuccessful. In 1902, one of the great meetings in literary history took place in a Dublin café. A 21- year-old James Joyce read some of his poems to Yeats; Yeats, who was 37, said they were good but had the mark of immaturity. As they left the café, Joyce said to him, "We have met too late. You are too old for me to have any effect on you." In 1922, after Ireland finally broke away from Great Britain, he was elected one of the first senators of the Irish Free State. He won the Nobel Prize in 1923, but went on to write some of the best poetry of his life in his last fifteen years.

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