Jan. 13, 2006

Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats

by Walt Whitman

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Poem: "Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats," by Walt Whitman.

Ah Poverties, Wincings, and Sulky Retreats

Ah poverties, wincings, and sulky retreats,
Ah you foes that in conflict have overcome me,
(For what is my life or any man's life but a conflict with foes,
    the old, the incessant war?)
You degredations, you tussle with passions and appetites,
You smarts from dissatisfied friendships, (ah wounds the
    sharpest of all!)
You toil of painful and choked articulations, you meannesses,
You shallow tongue-talks at tables, (my tongue the shallowest of
You broken resolutions, you racking angers, you smother'd
Ah think not you finally triumph, my real self has yet to come
It shall yet march forth o'ermastering, till all lies beneath me,
It shall yet stand up the soldier of ultimate victory.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer Elizabeth Searle, born in Philadelphia (1962). She was a special-education teacher working with autistic patients in a state hospital and wrote a number of stories set in that world; they were collected in her first book, My Body to You (1993). Her first novel, A Four-Sided Bed, came out in 1998. Her second novel is Celebrities in Disgrace.

It's the birthday of novelist Edmund White, born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1940), the author of seven highly acclaimed novels, including the semi-autobiographical coming of age novel, A Boy's Own Story (1982) and its sequel, The Beautiful Room is Empty (1988).

It's the birthday of feminist scholar and mystery novelist Carolyn Heilbrun, born in East Orange, New Jersey (1926). As a feminist scholar, she produced such works as Reinventing Womanhood (1979), and Hamlet's Mother and Other Women (1990). At the same time, she wrote mysteries under the pen name Amanda Cross, featuring English professor and sleuth, Kate Fansler.

On this date in 1910, the first live opera broadcast took place from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Enrico Caruso sang in Pagliacci.

On this date in 1898, the French newspaper L'Aurore ran a letter by the novelist Emile Zola, under the title J'accuse. The letter was a fierce condemnation of French military officials, who were prosecuting a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, for treason. Zola was convinced that Dreyfus was the victim of an anti-Semitic conspiracy, and wrote his letter denouncing the prosecution. After the publication of the letter, Zola was himself prosecuted, for libel, and found guilty. He fled to England, returning to France in 1899. He died in Paris in 1902—Captain Dreyfus attended the funeral.

It's the birthday of the popular 19th-century American writer Horatio Alger Jr., born in Chelsea, Massachusetts (1832). He graduated near the top of his class at Harvard University, then spent two years in the ministry before moving to New York City and starting a career as a writer. He wrote a novel called Ragged Dick; or Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks (1867), about a shoeshine boy who goes from rags to riches through a combination of hard work and good luck (or "luck and pluck"). The novel was a huge success. Over the next 30 years, Alger published more than a hundred successful novels using the same formula.

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