Apr. 29, 2004

Sonnet 15: When I consider every thing that grows

by William Shakespeare

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Poem: "Sonnet XV," by William Shakespeare, from The Sonnets.


When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked ev'n by the selfsame sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
       And all in war with time for love of you,
       As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of poet C.P. Cavafy, born in Alexandria, Egypt (1863). His parents were Greek, and he wrote his poetry in Greek, but he lived in Alexandria almost his entire life. In 1889, he got a job as an unpaid clerk at the city's Irrigation Office, and he stayed there until he retired thirty years later. He lived with his mother until he was thirty-six, in an apartment just above a brothel, and across the street from a church and a hospital. Cavafy once said, "Where could I live better? Below, the brothel caters to the flesh. And there is the church which forgives sin. And there is the hospital where we die."

He published only a few poems in his lifetime; most of his poetry was printed in pamphlets that he gave to friends and family. He wrote poetry on all kinds of subjects, but he's especially known for his erotic poems, which were unusually direct and detailed for their day.

Cavafy wrote, in the poem "An Old Man":

In the inner room of the noisy café
an old man sits bent over a table;
a newspaper before him, no companion beside him.

and in the scorn of his miserable old age,
he meditates how little he enjoyed the years
when he had strength, the art of the word, and good looks.

He knows he has aged much; he is aware of it, he sees it,
and yet the time when he was young seems like
yesterday. How short a time, how short a time.

And he ponders how Wisdom had deceived him;
and how he always trusted her--what folly!--
the liar who would say, "Tomorrow. You have ample time."

He recalls impulses he curbed; and how much
joy he sacrificed. Every lost chance
now mocks his senseless prudence.

. . . But with so much thinking and remembering
the old man reels. And he dozes off
bent over the table of the café.

It's the birthday of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, born in Brooklyn, New York (1954). He's known for his stand-up routine in which he points out little absurdities in everyday life. He once said, "I take the most normal things in life and spend way too much time thinking about them."

Growing up on Long Island, he became interested in comedy from watching his father, who was always making people laugh in conversation. By the time he was eight years old, Seinfeld had begun studying the techniques of comedians on The Ed Sullivan Show. Once, he made a friend laugh so hard that he sprayed a mouthful of cookies and milk all over him, and from that point on he knew that he wanted to be a comedian.

He got a degree from Queens College, and a few weeks after he graduated he went to an open mic night at a local comedy club. When he got on stage, he couldn't remember anything he was going to say, so he just mumbled through all of the topics he had prepared. For the next few years, he bounced around the New York comedy circuit, and took the worst day jobs he could find so that he would feel more pressure to succeed as a comedian. He said, "To have your back to a cliff, that's the best way to accomplish something. Never have anything to fall back on."

He worked as a light bulb salesman, a janitor, and an illegal jewelry salesman. When he still hadn't made it big in New York after four years, he decided to try his luck in Los Angeles. He got a job writing scripts for a sitcom, but he was fired after a few shows.

Seinfeld got his big break in the spring of 1981, when a talent scout for the Tonight Show saw him perform and offered him a spot on the show. He went on to perform on Leno and Letterman dozens of times in the next few years, and he did his stand-up routine at hundreds of shows every year, all across the country. In 1990, his sitcom Seinfeld premiered, and it soon became one of the most popular TV shows of all time. In 1998, Seinfeld quit the show and went back to doing stand-up comedy fulltime.

It's the birthday of editor and publisher Robert Gottlieb, born in New York City (1931). He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in a family that loved to read. He once said that his father's "idea of a real treat, something truly devilish, was to go on a spree . . . and buy half a dozen books." Gottlieb would read three or four books every day, and he was able to read for sixteen hours at a time. As a teenager he read War and Peace in one day, and while he was at college he read Marcel Proust's six-volume Remembrance of Things Past in less than a week.

In 1955, he applied for a job as an editorial assistant for Jack Goodman at Simon & Schuster. When Goodman asked him why he wanted to be an editor, Gottlieb said, "It's never occurred to me to be anything else." In his second year as an editor, Gottlieb received a manuscript by Joseph Heller with the working title Catch-18. Gottlieb suggested the title Catch-22, the book became a modern classic, and Gottlieb became one of the best-known editors in the country at the age of twenty-six.

He went on to edit the books of S.J. Perelman, Jessica Mitford, Doris Lessing, Ray Bradbury, Chaim Potok, Anthony Burgess, John Cheever, Michael Crichton, John Le Carre, and many other writers.

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