Sep. 28, 2006


by Mary Oliver

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Poem: "Messenger" by Mary Oliver from Thirst.© Beacon Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The text of this poem is no longer available.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1066 that William the Conqueror of Normandy arrived on British soil. He defeated the British in the Battle of Hastings, and on Christmas Day, he was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.

One of the most important consequences of the Norman conquest of England was its effect on the English language. At the time, the British were speaking a combination of Saxon and Old Norse. The Normans spoke French. Over time, the languages blended, and the result was that English became a language incredibly rich in synonyms. Because the French speakers were aristocrats, the French words often became the fancy words for things. The Saxons had "house"; the Normans gave us "mansion." The Saxons had "cow"; the Normans gave us "beef." The Normans gave us "excrement," for which the Saxons had lots of four letter words.

The English language has gone on accepting additions to its vocabulary ever since the Norman invasion, and it now contains more than a million words, making it one of the most diverse languages on Earth.

It's the birthday of John Sayles, (books by this author) born in Schenectady, New York (1950). He's one of a few writers who have gone on to become a successful filmmakers. His first novel, Pride of the Bimbos (1975), is about five men who make a living playing exhibition baseball games dressed as women. He went on to publish his second novel, Union Dues (1977), and a collection of stories, The Anarchists' Convention (1979), both of which got great reviews.

But Sayles was also interested in the movies, and he got his first screenwriting job on a horror movie called Piranha (1978). He said, "My whole job was to contrive a reason why people, once they hear there are piranhas in the river, don't just stay out of the river but end up getting eaten. That's basically what they paid me $10,000 for."

Sayles has gone to write and direct his own movies, including Matewan (1987), Passion Fish (1992), and Lone Star (1996).

It's the birthday of cartoonist Al Capp, (books by this author) born Alfred Gerald Caplin in New Haven, Connecticut (1909). He created the cartoon strip Li'l Abner, about a hillbilly named Abner Yokum who lived in the fictional town of Dogpatch, Kentucky. The strip ran from 1934 to 1977.

It's the birthday of Kate Douglas Wiggin, (books by this author) born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1856). She wrote Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1910).

It's the birthday of Ed Sullivan, born in New York City (1902). He was a gossip columnist who went on to become one of the first hosts of a national television show in America. The Ed Sullivan Show, originally called Toast of the Town, premiered live on CBS in 1948, and within a few years about 50 million people watched it every Sunday night. His formula was, "Open big, have a good comedy act, put in something for children, and keep the show clean."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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