Aug. 30, 2003

Pied Beauty

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Pied Beauty," by Gerard Manley Hopkins, from Poems and Prose (Knopf).

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things—
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
               Praise him.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist David Haynes, born in St. Louis, Missouri (1955). He writes about middle-class black Americans living in the Midwest in novels such as Somebody Else's Mama (1995) and All American Dream Dolls (1997).

It's the birthday of political humorist Molly Ivins, born in Monterey, California (1944). She has been a political columnist in Texas for many years, and has published several collections of her columns, including Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? (1991). She calls herself a pathological optimist and believes that politics is not depressing but entertaining. She said, "Politics in Texas [is the] finest form of free entertainment ever invented."

It's the birthday of journalist John Gunther, born in Chicago, Illinois (1901). He is known for his series of Inside books about places, including Inside Europe (1942), Inside Asia (1939), and Inside Latin America (1941). He wrote the books by traveling across the countryside, interviewing people and collecting odd facts. While working on Inside USA (1947), he traveled through the United States for 13 months, interviewing more than 20 people a day and taking more than a million words of notes. He said, "All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast."

It's the birthday of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1943). As a young man, he got a job with the American Greetings Corporation drawing funny pictures for cards. His boss was always telling him that his pictures were too grotesque, and he had to make them cuter. At the same time, he developed a style of cartoon in which cute animal characters like Fritz the Cat get involved in violent, grotesque situations. He got involved with the counterculture in the late 1960s. He illustrated rock concert posters and album covers and popularized the phrase "Keep on truckin'." He began publishing comics in Zap magazine about a character named Mr. Natural, an old man with a long beard who is a sex guru and con man. After developing a cult following, he published a series of collections of his comics that included R. Crumb's Carloads o'Comics (1976) and Complete Crumb: Mr. Sixties (1989). For most of his life, Crumb has worn a fedora hat and business suits from the 1930s. He only listens to old blues and jazz records, only watches black and white television. A friend of his said, "He is like a kid whose parents had locked him in an attic full of old records and magazines. His taste in everything comes from a time when he did not exist."

It's the birthday of physicist Ernest Rutherford, born in Spring Grove, New Zealand (1871). He was one of the first scientists to study nuclear energy, before scientists actually knew what it was. He discovered that radioactivity is caused by particles breaking apart and releasing pieces of themselves. At the time, scientists believed that atoms were indestructible, and they thought that Rutherford's research was wrongheaded. But his ideas eventually caught on, and he won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1908.

It's the birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, born Mary Godwin in London, England (1797). She is famous as the author of Frankenstein (1818), which is considered the first science fiction novel ever written. Her parents had only been married for five months when she was born. They were political radicals and didn't believe in the institution of marriage, but they wanted Mary to be legitimate. A few days after Mary was born, her mother, the writer Mary Wollstonecraft, died from complications with the pregnancy. Her father was devastated. Mary grew up thinking of herself as her mother's murderer, and she spent a lot of time at her mother's grave, trying to communicate with her spirit. Her father encouraged her to be an intellectual like her mother had been. He let her read anything she wanted from his library, and she often overheard the conversations he had with friends like William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. One night in 1806, she hid under the parlor sofa to hear Coleridge recite his famous poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Mary was about 15 years old when the poet Percy B. Shelley first visited her father. He was married at the time, but after dining at the house for several months, he and Mary fell in love. They went for walks every day and often stopped at her mother's grave. When her father found out about the relationship, he forbade Shelley to ever come to his house again. Percy Shelley attempted suicide, and when he recovered, Mary ran away with him to France. The Shelleys' first child was born prematurely and died. In the summer of 1816, she and her husband went to stay in a lakeside cottage in Switzerland with the poet Lord Byron. One rainy night, after reading a German book of ghost stories, Byron suggested that they all write their own horror stories. Everyone else wrote a story within the next day, but Mary took almost a week. Finally, she wrote an early version of a story about a scientist who brings a dead body to life. She turned the story into a novel, and Frankenstein was published in 1818. She was 21 years old. The rest of her life was filled with tragedy. Only one of her five children survived, and Percy Shelley was drowned in 1822. She spent the later part of her life editing her husband's papers, and struggling to support her son.

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