Aug. 18, 2010

Perfect Woman

by William Wordsworth

She was a phantom of delight
When first she gleam'd upon my sight;
A lovely apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;
Her eyes as star of twilight fair;
Like twilight's, too, her dusky hair;
But all things else about her drawn
From May-time and the cheerful dawn;
A dancing shape, an image gay,
To haunt, to startle, and waylay.

I saw her upon nearer view,
A Spirit, yet a Woman too!
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
A creature not too bright or good
For human nature's daily food;
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles.

And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A being breathing thoughtful breath,
A traveller between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
A perfect Woman, nobly plann'd
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light.

"Perfect Woman" by William Wordsworth. Public domain. (buy now)

No one knows for sure when the Mongol boy Temujin was born, but he grew up be a great leader and warrior. And on this day in 1227, Genghis Khan died, leaving behind an empire that stretched from the east coast of China across to Russia and down to the Aral Sea. The empire continued to grow after his death, and by 1280, it covered 12 million square miles, about two-thirds of the "known world" at the time. The Mongol Empire was the largest connected empire in history — only the British Empire exceeded it.

Because Genghis Khan fathered so many children over such a huge expanse of land, a few years ago a team of geneticists did a DNA study and concluded that about 16 million men alive today are descendents of Genghis Khan — about half a percent of the male population.

On this day in 1958, Vladimir Nabokov's (books by this author) novel Lolita was published in the United States by G.P. Putnam's Sons. It had been published first in France, three years earlier, by Olympia Press, which mostly published erotica. The first Olympia edition of 5,000 sold out quickly, but it didn't get any serious reviews until Graham Greene got his hands on it and wrote a review in a major London newspaper calling Lolita the best book of 1955. Then it got so much interest that the British Customs started confiscating copies coming into the country, and it was banned in various places on counts of pornography.

American publishers were reluctant to publish Lolita. The story goes that one of the young editors at Putnam had a girlfriend who was a showgirl in Paris, and she heard about Lolita and recommended it to him. That editor took it on, and when it was published, it set off a huge controversy. But it was also an immediate best-seller — reviews calling it filthy and pornographic certainly helped its sales — and it sold more than 100,000 copies in one week, the first novel that had done so since Gone with the Wind.

When someone asked him why he wrote Lolita, he said: "Why did I write any of my books, after all? For the sake of the pleasure, for the sake of the difficulty. I have no social purpose, no moral message; I've no general ideas to exploit, I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions."

It was on this day in 1850 that the French writer Honoré de Balzac (books by this author) died, a death that was probably fueled by his coffee addiction. Balzac drank between 20 and 40 cups of intense Turkish coffee every day.

Balzac produced a huge body of work, nearly 100 novels, stories, and plays that are known as La Comédie humaine. He worked for about 15 hours each day, and he sustained himself with massive amounts of coffee, pipe tobacco, and food.

Balzac suggested drinking strong coffee on an empty stomach as a writing method. He said: "Everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination's orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink — for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder."

Balzac had been married for five months at the time of his death, but his wife had gone to bed and his mother was the only one with him when he died. He was 51 years old.

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




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