Aug. 9, 2004

Afraid So

by Jeanne Marie Beaumont

Happy the Man

by John Dryden

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Poem: "Afraid So" by Jeanne Marie Beaumont from Curious Conduct © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2004. Reprinted with permission.

Afraid So

Is it starting to rain?
Did the check bounce?
Are we out of coffee?
Is this going to hurt?
Could you lose your job?
Did the glass break?
Was the baggage misrouted?
Will this go on my record?
Are you missing much money?
Was anyone injured?
Is the traffic heavy?
Do I have to remove my clothes?
Will it leave a scar?
Must you go?
Will this be in the papers?
Is my time up already?
Are we seeing the understudy?
Will it affect my eyesight?
Did all the books burn?
Are you still smoking?
Is the bone broken?
Will I have to put him to sleep?
Was the car totaled?
Am I responsible for these charges?
Are you contagious?
Will we have to wait long?
Is the runway icy?
Was the gun loaded?
Could this cause side effects?
Do you know who betrayed you?
Is the wound infected?
Are we lost?
Can it get any worse?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Izaak Walton, born on this day in 1593. An English biographer, he is best known for The Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man's Recreation (1653)—a guide to the joys of fishing with over 300 new printings. It combines practical information about fishing with philosophy, descriptions of nature, and quotations and continues to be one of the most popular fishing books ever written.

Walton said, "... and so, if I might be judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling."

It's the birthday of the English writer John Dryden, born in the village of Aldwincle All Saints in Northamptonshire (1631). He wrote plays, poems, essays, and satires, and he was the leading literary figure of the late seventeenth century. He wrote the following poem in imitation of Horace, Book 3, Ode 29 (1685).

Happy the Man
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

It's the birthday of the creator of Mary Poppins, P. L. (Pamela Lyndon) Travers, born Helen Lyndon Goff, in Mayborough, Queensland, Australia (1899). She is most celebrated for her Mary Poppins books. Before the publication of Mary Poppins, she adopted P. L. Travers as her literary pseudonym.

Travers spent her childhood in Australia and in her twenties, after working as an actor, dancer and writer in Australia, she went to Dublin and became friends with George Russell, known as "AE," the great Irish poet and economist.

In 1933, while recovering from an illness at her home in Sussex, Travers wrote the first stories in the series and made them into a book about a prim British nanny who appears at a household in a high wind and floats away when the wind changes. Mary Poppins (1934) was published the following year. The book was an immediate success in Britain and the United States. Between 1935 and 1988 she published seven sequels, including Mary Poppins Comes Back and Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane. The 1964 Walt Disney movie starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke was based on Travers' stories.

She said in an interview, "Mary Poppins is both a joy and a curse to me as a writer. As a writer you can feel awfully imprisoned, because people, having had so much of one thing, want you always to go on doing more of the same."

On this day in 1854, Henry David Thoreau published Walden; or, Life in the Woods. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson said he saw a "tremble of great expectation" in Thoreau just before publication day. It took five years to sell off the first edition of 2,000 copies. Since then, millions of copies of Walden have been sold.

On this day in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution was founded. Twenty years earlier, a British scientist named James Smithson drew up his last will and testament with his nephew as beneficiary. Smithson made clear that if the nephew should die without an heir (as he did in 1835), the estate should go to the United States of America to found, in Washington, "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Smithson never visited the U. S., and did not correspond with anyone living there. Why he gave his estate to the U. S. is a mystery.

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