May 11, 2008

Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
     So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
     So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

"Sonnet 18" by William Shakespeare. Public Domain.

It's the second Sunday in May, which is Mother's Day here in the United States. It's Mother's Day in other countries, too, including Denmark, Italy, Venezuela, Turkey, Australia, and Japan. It's the biggest day of the year for long-distance telephone calls.

A woman named Anna Jarvis was the person behind the official establishment of Mother's Day. Her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, had a similar idea, and in 1905 the daughter swore at her mother's grave to dedicate her life to the project. She campaigned tirelessly for the holiday. In 1907, she passed out 500 white carnations at her mother's church, St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia — one for each mother in the congregation. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother's Day, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.

Anna Jarvis became increasingly concerned over the commercialization of Mother's Day. She said, "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." She was against the selling of flowers, and she called greeting cards "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write." Nevertheless, Mother's Day has become one of the best days of the year for florists. When Anna Jarvis lived the last years of her life in nursing home without a penny to her name, her bills were paid, unbeknownst to her, by the Florist's Exchange.

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde wrote: "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

It's the birthday of painter Salvador Dali, born in Figueras, Spain (1904). In 1929, he joined the surrealist movement. He was influenced by the theories of Sigmund Freud, and he made what he called "hand-painted dream photographs": images of distorted human figures, limp pocket watches, and burning giraffes. He made the most of his fame; he was a born performer who relished an audience. He found that audience in America. He moved here in 1940, and made public appearances in Hollywood, on Broadway, and in the stores on New York's Fifth Avenue. He was an unmistakable figure; he had a perfectly waxed, upturned mustache, and a large collection of canes. Once, when he was asked to give a lecture, he showed up in a diving bell, and insisted on speaking from inside it


He said, "Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure — that of being Salvador Dali." At the end of his life there were reports that his assistants did much of his painting. When asked about it, he said, "Let my enemies devour each other."

He wrote two autobiographies: The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (1942) and Diary of a Genius (1966). In Diary of a Genius, he wrote, "the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous."

It's the birthday of Stanley Elkin, (books by this author) born in the Bronx (1930), during the Great Depression. His father, Philip, was a successful traveling salesman especially after the family moved to Chicago when Stanley was three. Philip told Stanley about his trips through the plains states, selling costume jewelry to stores.

In many of Elkin's novels, the heroes are pitchmen: the department store owner, Leo Feldman, in A Bad Man (1967); the disk jokey in The Dick Gibson Show (1971); politician Bob Druff of The MacGuffin (1991). The Franchiser (1976) is about Ben Flesh, a man who is so successful in building a nationwide empire of franchises that by the end of the novel, he can't tell which state is which.

In 1972, Elkin was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It didn't keep him from writing. He went on to write some of his best books: The Living End (1979), about heaven, hell, and the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; and George Mills (1982), about 40 generations of blue-collar men with the name George Mills.

Stanley Elkin, who said, "Life's tallest order is to keep the feelings up, to make two dollars' worth of euphoria go the distance. And life can't do that. So fiction does."

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




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