Feb. 20, 2005

Written For a Personal Epitaph

by Dylan Thomas

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Poem: "Written for a Personal Epitaph" by Dylan Thomas from The Poems of Dylan Thomas © A New Directions Book. Reprinted with permission.

Written for a Personal Epitaph

     Feeding the worm
     Who do I blame
     Because laid down
     At last by time,
Here under the earth with girl and thief,
     Who do I blame?
     Mother I blame
     Whose loving crime
     Molded my form
     Within her womb,
Who gave me life and then the grave,
     Mother I blame.
     Here is her labour's end,
     Dead limb and mind,
     All love and sweat
     Gone now to rot.
I am man's reply to every question,
His aim and destination.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Japanese author Shiga Naoya, born in Ishinomaki, Japan (1883). A child of wealthy samurai parents, he spent much of his childhood with his grandmother in Tokyo. He loved reading and writing, had an affinity for English, and studied English Literature at Tokyo Imperial University and began writing fiction in a poetic, economical style, which has come to be called the "Shiga Style." Focusing on family conflict, his novels include Reconciliation (1917) and A Dark Night's Passing (1921).

It's the birthday of playwright Russel Crouse, born in Findlay, Ohio (1893). With Howard Lindsay, he co-authored and co-produced a string of Broadway comedies; their first collaboration was Anything Goes (1934). Their longest-running play was a 1939 stage adaptation of Clarence Day's book Life with Father, in which Lindsay himself played Father—and Mother was played by his real-life wife, Dorothy Stickney. It ran on Broadway for seven and a half years.

It's the birthday of novelist Alex La Guma, born in Cape Town, South Africa (1925). He was put under house arrest for his role in the drafting of the "Freedom Charter," a declaration of rights. While in prison he wrote his novel And A Threefold Cord (1964); it was banned during his lifetime.

On this day in 1949, the first Bollingen Prize for Poetry, funded by philanthropist Paul Mellon, and meant to be conferred annually by the Library of Congress, was awarded to Ezra Pound for his poetry collection The Pisan Cantos (1948). Pound had composed The Pisan Cantos while held in an American prison camp near Pisa, Italy, at the close of World War Two. American troops had charged him with treason for the hundreds of radio broadcasts he had made over Rome Radio during the war, in which he condemned the U.S. war effort.

On this day in 1950, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas arrived in New York City for the first of 4 reading tours he would perform in the United States. The fourth, in 1953, ended when he poisoned his brain with 17 whiskeys in quick succession, lapsed into a coma, and died at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan, 39 years old. But even the first tour began ominously. Thomas didn't seem charmed by New York. Soon after arriving, he called it "this Titanic dream world, soaring Babylon, everything monstrously rich and strange." He explored seedy Irish bars on Third Avenue, then discovered the White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street—"as homely and dingy as many a London pub, and perhaps just as old"—and settled in. Before taking the stage for his first New York reading, he vomited blood—then straightened his shoulders, made his way to the podium, and boomed out, in his singing Welsh baritone, poems of Yeats, Hardy, Auden, Lawrence, MacNeice, Edith Sitwell, and then his own—to wild cheers from the packed hall.

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