Jan. 5, 2008

Warning to Children

by Robert Graves

Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.
In the parcel a small island,
On the island a large tree,
On the tree a husky fruit.
Strip the husk and pare the rind off:
In the kernel you will see
Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled
Red and green, enclosed by tawny
Yellow nets, enclosed by white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where the same brown paper parcel —
Children, leave the string alone!
For who dares undo the parcel
Finds himself at once inside it,
On the island, in the fruit,
Blocks of slate about his head,
Finds himself enclosed by dappled
Green and red, enclosed by yellow
Tawny nets, enclosed by black
And white acres of dominoes,
With the same brown paper parcel
Still untied upon his knee.
And, if he then should dare to think
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Greatness of this endless only
Precious world in which he says
he lives — he then unties the string.

"Warning to Children" by Robert Graves, from The Complete Poems. © Penguin Books Ltd., 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1933 that construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began in San Francisco, California.

It's the birthday of Umberto Eco, born in the Piedmont region of Italy (1932). He became one of the most renowned scholars in his field in part because he was so productive. He taught himself to walk faster, eat faster, and shave faster, all in an effort to get more work done. He once said, "I could work in the shower if I had plastic paper."

Then, one day, an Italian fiction publisher called him up and asked him if he'd like to contribute to a collection of detective fiction written by academics. Eco had never written any fiction, but the idea intrigued him, so he told the publisher that he would work on something. He got the idea of a murder mystery set in the Middle Ages, and he wrote about a Franciscan friar who stumbles upon a series of interrelated deaths in the Italian abbey he is visiting. He filled the book with the history of the 14th century, as well as philosophy and theology. He also used every trick he'd ever learned from studying detective novels and spy movies to create his protagonist, William of Baskerville.

When Eco finished the novel, titled The Name of the Rose, he thought that his publishers were being way too optimistic when they ordered 30,000 copies to be printed. But when it came out in 1980, The Name of the Rose sold 2 million copies. He has continued writing novels since then, including Foucault's Pendulum (1988) and The Island of the Day Before (1995).

Umberto Eco once wrote, "The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else."

It was on this day in 1825 that the writer Alexandre Dumas fought his first duel at the age of 23. He lost the battle and a bit of dignity as well — his pants fell down as he stood opposite his opponent. Later in his career, Dumas wrote stories of duels and the adventures of headstrong heroes in his books The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Man in the Iron Mask.

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




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