Oct. 21, 2006

A Child's Evening Prayer

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Poem: "A Child's Evening Prayer" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from The Complete Poems. © Penguin Books. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

A Child's Evening Prayer

Ere on my bed my limbs I lay
God grant me grace my prayers to say:
O God! preserve my mother dear
In strength and health for many a year;
And, O! preserve my father too,
And may I pay him reverence due;
And may I my best thoughts employ
To be my parents' hope and joy;
And O! preserve my brothers both
From evil doings and from sloth,
And may we always love each other,
Our friends, our father, and our mother:
And still, O Lord, to me impart
An innocent and grateful heart,
That after my last sleep I may
Awake to thy eternal day!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of one of the greatest science-fiction writers of our time, Ursula K. Le Guin, (books by this author) born in Berkeley, California (1929). She is the author of many classic science-fiction novels, including A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). Her father was the well-known anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, and she grew up listening to native American legends. She would later say, "My father studied real cultures and I make them up—in a way, it's the same thing."

It's the birthday of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (books by this author) born in Ottery St. Mary in Devonshire, England (1772). As a child, he was caught up in an epidemic of some mysterious fever, and it was during that illness that he began to have vivid nightmares that would recur for the rest of his life, and which he said inspired many of his poems.

He went through a rough time in college, racking up debt, having his heart broken, getting into trouble for his radical political views. He considered suicide, but instead he decided to enlist as a private in the Fifteenth Light Dragoons under an assumed name. He worked on a plan to found a utopian society in Pennsylvania, and single-handedly tried to start his own magazine. The magazine work proved to be extremely taxing, and he grew increasingly miserable until one day he was introduced to the poet William Wordsworth.

They met only briefly in 1795, but they struck up a correspondence in which they discussed poetry and showed each other their work. Wordsworth encouraged him to focus on poetry, rather than his journalism, and so that's what he did. Writing poetry made him happier and happier, and after finishing a particularly long and ambitious poem, he decided he needed to see Wordsworth in the flesh, so he set out to walk to Wordsworth's house, miles away. When he approached Wordsworth's house, he was overcome with happiness. Wordsworth's wife said, "Coleridge did not keep to the high road, but leaped over a gate and bounded down a pathless field, which he cut off at an angle."

It was the beginning of a 37-year friendship, and the most important friendship of either man's life. The two men took long walks together throughout that summer, at day and night. They both had a habit of composing poetry while walking, though one of their friends, the essayist William Hazlitt wrote, "[Coleridge preferred] uneven ground, or breaking through the straggling branches of a copse-wood; whereas Wordsworth always wrote (if he could) walking up and down a straight gravel-walk."

That first year of friendship with Wordsworth was the most productive period of Coleridge's life. It was sometime that autumn of 1797 that Coleridge wrote the famous lines, "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree: / Where Alph, the sacred river, ran / Through caverns measureless to man / Down to a sunless sea."

Just a few months later, Coleridge went on a winter walk with Wordsworth and then began to write a ballad about a tragic sea voyage. He spent the next year filling it with images from his lifelong nightmares. And that was his poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798). It tells the story of a sailor who brings a curse on his ship when he kills an albatross.

Within a few years, Coleridge's life began to go down hill. He became addicted to opium, which killed his creativity and ruined his friendship with Wordsworth. He failed to complete most of the numerous ambitious projects he started, including a 1,400-page work of geography, a two-volume history of English prose, a translation of Faust, a musical about Adam and Eve, a history of logic, a history of German metaphysics, a study of witchcraft, an epic on the fall of Jerusalem, and an encyclopedia.

It was on this day in 1879 that the inventor Thomas Edison finally struck upon the key to inventing a workable electric light in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. He started off using platinum wire, just as everyone had before him, but after more than a year of frustration, he decided to try carbonized cotton thread. At 1:30 in the morning on this day in 1879, he hooked a carbon filament up to an electric circuit and it glowed from 1:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. the following afternoon.

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




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