Jan. 8, 2012

A Description of London

by John Banks

Houses, churches, mixed together,
Streets unpleasant in all weather;
Prisons, places contiguous,
Gates, a bridge, the Thames irriguous.

Gaudy things enough to tempt ye,
Showy outsides, insides empty;
Bubbles, trades, mechanic arts,
Coaches, wheelbarrows and carts.

Warrant, bailiffs, bills unpaid,
Lords of laundresses afraid;
Rogues that nightly rob and shoot men,
Hangmen, aldermen and footmen.

Lawyers, poets, priests, physicians,
Noble, simple, all conditions:
Worth beneath a threadbare cover,
Villainy bedaubed all over.

Women black, red, fair and grey,
Prudes and such as never pray,
Handsome, ugly, noisy, still,
Some that will not, some that will.

Many a beau without a shilling,
Many a widow not unwilling;
Many a bargain, if you strike it:
This is London! How d'ye like it?

"A Description of London" by John Banks. Public domain. (buy now)

On this date in 1877, Lakota Sioux warrior Crazy Horse fought his last battle against the United States Army, half a year after the Battle of Little Big Horn in June 1876. The battle took place at Wolf Mountain in Montana against General Miles' army; Crazy Horse and his band had engaged the army throughout the fall and winter. By January, they were weakened and hungry. In May, Crazy Horse led his remaining people to Fort Robinson and formally surrendered.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist John Neihardt (books by this author), born near Sharpsburg, Illinois (1881). When he was 20, he moved to Nebraska and developed a fascination with Native American culture and history. In 1930, Neihardt met Black Elk on the Oglala Sioux reservation at Pine Ridge. Black Elk, a contemporary of Crazy Horse, was a shaman and a survivor of Little Big Horn and the Wounded Knee massacre. Neihardt spoke with Black Elk over the course of nearly a year, and then put a poetic spin on the stories and published them as Black Elk Speaks (1932).

Today is the birthday of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, born in Tupelo, Mississippi (1935). His first stage performance came in 1945, when he was 10 years old. He sang "Old Shep" at a talent contest, and came in fifth, winning five dollars' worth of ride tickets for the Mississippi-Alabama fair. The following year, he wanted a bicycle, but his parents were too poor to buy one. His mother, Gladys, talked him into accepting a substitute gift: a guitar, which cost $12.95 at the Tupelo Hardware Company.

The family moved to Memphis when Presley was 13, and he grew up in public housing and listening to Memphis R&B. These, along with Tennessee country music that he heard on the radio, were his musical roots. When he was 18, working as a truck driver, he wanted to give his mom a gift, so he stopped by the Memphis Recording Service, where you could record your own songs for a small fee. He had $4, and with that money he was able to record two songs: "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin." The Memphis Recording Service was also the home of Sun Records, and Elvis caught the attention of owner Sam Phillips, who called the young truck driver back in to see what other songs he knew.

Today is the 70th birthday of the author of the physics blockbuster hit A Brief History of Time (1988): Stephen Hawking (books by this author), born in Oxford, England (1942). He was 21 when he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, a degenerative neurological condition that would result in gradual full-body paralysis and death. He was given two to three years to live. Almost five decades later and almost completely paralyzed, he is still producing new work. His latest book, The Grand Design, was published in 2010, and he's planning to make a trip to space as one of Richard Branson's "space tourists."

He said: "For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen."

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




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