Feb. 21, 2008

Sonnet 109: O! never say that I was false of heart

by William Shakespeare

O never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart,
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie.
That is my home of love; if I have ranged
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reigned
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good —
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.

"109" by William Shakespeare. Public Domain.

It's the birthday of W.H. Auden, (books by this author) born in York, England (1907), the son of a physician and a nurse. He went to Christ Church, Oxford on a biology scholarship. He switched to English literature, met young poets who became his lifelong friends, and he glided into a literary career. Just before the start of World War II, he immigrated to the United States to teach English. Auden once said, "A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep." He was a New Yorker for much of his life, a kindly man with a wrinkled face. He said, "My face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain."

He published more than 400 poems, essays, plays, and opera librettos. "No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible," he said. His poem "Funeral Blues" begins:

Stop all of the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Auden once said, "Words so excite me that a pornographic story, for example, excites me sexually more than a living person can do." He said, "A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language."

It's the birthday of novelist and short-story writer David Foster Wallace, (books by this author) born in Ithaca, New York (1962). The son of a philosophy professor and an English professor, Wallace double-majored in these subjects and described himself as "obscenely educated."

He is best known for his 1,079-page Infinite Jest, an ambitious, sprawling novel published in 1996. In this novel's future world, the U.S. is part of one unified state that includes Mexico and Canada, and New England has become a vast hazardous waste dump. The book, which frequently includes lengthy footnotes and invented vocabulary, juxtaposes the struggles of outpatients in a drug and alcohol treatment house against life in a posh tennis academy. In it years are referred to not by numers but by the name of their corporate sponsor: the Year of the Whisper-Quiet Maytag Dishmaster, the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, the Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland.

Wallace said, "Fiction's about what it is to be a human being."

It's the birthday of Anaïs Nin, (books by this author) born in Neuilly, France (1903), the daughter of a Spanish composer and Danish-Cuban classically trained singer. She is best known for her diaries, which she began writing at age 11 and continued for more than 60 years - and which include accounts of her passionate love affair with Henry Miller in Paris. Anaïs Nin said, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Ha Jin, (books by this author) born in Liaoning Province, China (1956). When he was 10 years old, he witnessed the arrival of the Cultural Revolution, and at 14 he joined the People's Liberation Army, after which he began to educate himself by studying the classics of Chinese literature. He learned English by listening to the radio and studied English in college, then came to the U.S. for graduate school. He intended to go back to China, but after watching on TV the massacre at Tiananmen Square, he decided that "it would be impossible to write honestly in China," and so he decided to stay in the United States. He supported himself as a busboy at a Chinese restaurant, and then his novel Waiting won the National Book Award for fiction in 1999. His most recent novel is A Free Life (2007).

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




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