May 13, 2006

SATURDAY, 13 MAY, 2006
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Poem: "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Public domain. (buy now)


Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightings to hear him sing;
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
  A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
  Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one half of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera writing team, Arthur Seymour Sullivan, born in London in 1842. He was a notorious drinker and smoker, and composing came very easily to him. He often entertained guests as he worked on a piece of music.

He established himself in 1862 as a composer when he wrote an orchestral suite for Shakespeare's The Tempest that was performed at the Crystal Palace. Charles Dickens attended the concert and complimented Sullivan after the show. He began collaborating with William Gilbert in 1871, and the pair would go on to write fourteen enormously popular comic operas, including Trial by Jury (1875), The Mikado (1885), and The Pirates of Penzance (1879).

It's the birthday of painter Georges Braque, born in Argenteuil-sur-Seine, France, in 1882. He painted scenes of villages where the buildings were reduced to their basic geometrical shape, the cube, and along with Pablo Picasso became a leader of Cubism. Cubist paintings challenged traditional art by using simple shapes and drab colors like gray and brown to show an object from multiple perspectives.

Georges Braque said, "There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain."

It's the birthday of novelist Daphne du Maurier, (books by this author), born in London (1907). She came from a long line of actors and writers, and her first two big successes were books about her family—Gerald (1936), a biography of her father, and The Du Mauriers (1937), the story of her family tree dating back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. She said, "[I wanted to find out] why they wept and why they suffered, and what strange memories enfolded these Du Mauriers of 60 and 100 years ago."

She spent most of her adult life in the coastal town of Cornwall, known for its stormy, unpredictable weather. Her three most famous novels, Jamaica Inn (1936), Frenchman's Creek (1941), and Rebecca (1938), are all set in Cornwall.

Rebecca is narrated by a young, nameless woman who lives with a rich widower in a haunted house near the cliffs of Cornwall. Rebecca has been made into a play, an opera, and a TV series. Orson Welles made it into a radio drama, and Alfred Hitchcock made it into a movie. In 2003, the BBC held something called the Big Read, in which the British public got to vote on their favorite books of all time. About 150,000 people cast votes, and Rebecca was named one of the nation's twenty favorite books.

It's the birthday of novelist Armistead Maupin, (books by this author), born Armistead Jones in Washington, D.C. (1944). He's famous for his Tales of the City series, which evolved from a regular column he wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, beginning in 1976. The novels focus on a group of gay and straight characters who share a boarding house in San Francisco.

It's the birthday of novelist and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, (books by this author), born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England (1940). His father took him on trips when Chatwin was a boy, and he later became an archeologist, traveling to Africa and Afghanistan. He began writing a column for the London Times, and then decided to go off to Patagonia. There he collected the material for what would become his first book, In Patagonia (1977).

It became an instant classic, and its popularity helped to inspire a new generation of travel writers in England and America—authors like Paul Theroux, Jonathan Raban, Peter Matthiessen, and Bill Bryson.

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