Sep. 29, 2003

Broken Fishing Lines

by Robert Bly

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Poem: "Broken Fishing Lines," by Robert Bly, used with permission of the poet.

Broken Fishing Lines

Sometimes I slip away on an October day,
Get in my car, and all that I haven't done—
Letters, poems, praises—fall away and I
Drive north, passing abandoned cabins,
And admiring the shadows thrown by bare trees
In small towns where cold waves lap the sand.

The renegade minister—the one they all gossip
About—would see those waves too, after throwing
His Sunday hat out the window. He'll be
All right. Death hugs the underside of oak leaves.
In each cove you pass you will see
What you had to say no to once.

Go ahead, pull off at some empty resort;
Walk among abandoned cabins on the shore.
You'll see the little holes that raindrops leave in fine sand,
And those old fishing lines driven up on the rocks.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of the Spanish author of Don Quixote (1605), Miguel Cervantes, born near Madrid (1547). He grew up in one of Spain's oldest families, and one of its poorest. When he was 24, he joined the Spanish Armada and fought at the Battle of Lepanto. He wounded his left hand in the battle, and he never regained its full use again. On the way back from the battle, he was captured and enslaved by pirates. Eventually he returned home, only to be put into jail there for fraud. While he was in prison he began his most famous work, Don Quixote. It's a story about a man who reads too many books about chivalry, goes mad, and tries to restore old-fashioned heroism to the world. In one episode, he mistakes a group of windmills for monsters and attacks them. Don Quixote is considered to be the first modern novel. It was written as a satire of the popular literature of its time. Don Quixote's foolishness mocks the chivalric romances that celebrated the values of the medieval world. Cervantes was successful in degrading this genre: very few medieval romances were ever published after Don Quixote.

It's the birthday of Gene Autry, one of the greatest country-western singers, born in Tioga, Texas (1907). He worked as a telegraph operator and played his guitar when the lines weren't busy. One day, a caller overheard him and said that he thought Autry could be a professional. The caller was Will Rogers, the famous "cowboy philosopher." Autry recorded 635 songs and acted in nearly 95 movies. He was the first person to sell out Madison Square Garden. In 1941, the town of Berwyn, Oklahoma, where Autry had a ranch, officially changed its name to "Gene Autry." When Autry retired, he was still very famous and very wealthy, and he purchased the California Angels baseball team.

It's the birthday of the author of the Inspector Morse mysteries, Colin Dexter, born in Lincolnshire, England (1930). He attended Cambridge University, where he earned his Master's Degree in Classical Studies. On a rainy vacation in 1972, Dexter read two mystery novels. He decided he could do better, and three years later he published Last Bus to Woodstock (1975), his first Inspector Morse novel. Inspector Morse is educated and charming, but he's often morose, and he has a weakness for beer and women. Morse is the main character in each of Dexter's fifteen novels, as well as his popular television series. Colin Dexter said, "Well I think that you've got to be prepared to write a load of nonsense to start with and then you can tart it up. The business of getting going, getting started, is enormously important, and this can be physical. Solvitur Ambulando as the Romans used to say, which means 'the solution comes through walking.'"

It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer William Beckford, born near Bath, England (1760). He's best known as the author of the story The History of the Caliph Vathek His father was the Lord Mayor of London and the descendant of royalty. William was orphaned at the age of eleven, but he was left an allowance of nearly 160,000 pounds a year. He became one of the wealthiest people in all England. After he had finished his education, Beckford traveled across Europe. When he returned, he decided to renovate the family mansion at Fonthill. But he wasn't happy with the work and ordered that the house be completely rebuilt, this time into a huge abbey. The project cost 273,000 pounds. Beckford built a tower 280 feet tall on the house. It collapsed and was rebuilt at least two times. William Hazlitt called Fonthill Abbey "a desert of magnificence, a glittering waste of laborious idleness." When Beckford was 21 he wrote the story known as Vathek. He wrote it in French, and claimed to have finished it in three nights and two days. It's a tale about a young ruler corrupted by power and wealth who falls under the control of Elbis, the devil. Beckford eventually sold his Abbey for 330,000 pounds, having squandered most of his father's fortune. He retired into obscurity and died in 1844. He was buried, at his request, under the shadow of his great tower, next to his favorite dog.

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