Apr. 20, 2012

The Coming of Light

by Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow's dust flares into breath.

"The Coming of Light" by Mark Strand, from New Selected Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1841 that the first "detective story" was published: "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," by Edgar Allan Poe (books by this author). In the story, C. August Dupin reads about the murder of a mother and daughter in a Paris street. The police are baffled, and Dupin decides to offer up his services. He finds a hair at the crime scene that he realizes does not belong to a human, and eventually he pieces together enough evidence to solve the case: The murder was committed by an orangutan who had been held in captivity by a sailor, who murdered the first woman with a straight razor and the second by strangling her.

The story is narrated not by Dupin but by his slightly less competent sidekick, just as Dr. Watson would narrate the Sherlock Holmes stories that first appeared 45 years later. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Holmes stories, said, "Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?"

Poe wrote two more stories featuring the detective C. August Dupin, although the word "detective" did not exist yet: "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" (1842) and "The Purloined Letter" (1844).

It's the birthday of the writer Pietro Aretino (books by this author), born in Arezzo, Italy (1492). He was banished from Arezzo after writing a satirical sonnet, but that didn't stop him from writing satire. He wrote poems, pamphlets, and gossip-filled letters, more than 3,000 in all, which he published and circulated widely. Unlike most of his predecessors, he wrote these letters in Italian instead of Latin, which gave them a much wider readership. He took particular pleasure in sharing the sex lives of famous people, including members of the Church. He was also happy to discuss his own sexual preference for boys. He became known as the "Scourge of Princes" because he blackmailed the wealthy and powerful with the threat of publishing satires about them. He supported himself with the money he was given as a bribe for keeping his gossip to himself.

He also wrote some of the earliest pornography, including mock-Platonic dialogues that took place in brothels, and 16 erotic sonnets. In his satirical book The School of Whoredom (1535), a woman instructs her daughter in how to be a courtesan. It is filled with advice like: "Men want to be duped, and while they realize they're being conned and that, when you've left their side, you'll mock them and brag about it even to your maids, they still prefer fake caresses to real ones without the sweet talk." He also wrote comic plays and sacred texts.

He died at the age of 64, and legend has it that he died of suffocation from laughing too much.

He said, "I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies."

It's the birthday of fantasy writer Peter S. Beagle (books by this author), born in New York City (1939). He's best known for The Last Unicorn (1968), the story of a unicorn who realizes she is the last unicorn who is not imprisoned, and sets out on a quest to free the others. He said: "It's hard for me to do anything but marvel at the impact the story has had. It was the hardest, least fun thing I've ever had to write, and back when I finished it I was convinced I'd utterly failed to do justice to the idea." The Last Unicorn has sold more than 5 million copies.

His other books include The Innkeeper's Song (1993), The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances (1997), Mirror Kingdoms (2010), and Sleight of Hand (2011).

It's the birthday of novelist Sebastian Faulks (books by this author), born in Donnington, England (1953).

When he was 14, he read novels by Dickens and D.H. Lawrence and decided that he would be a novelist. He graduated early from high school, and before he went on to Cambridge, he spent a year studying in Paris. He said: "At that time, France was a terribly old-fashioned, unmodernized country. You could branch off any main road in any of the provinces and in five minutes you would be back in the 1930s. I have this tremendous greed for the experience of the near past. I never wanted to be a centurion on Hadrian's Wall or to live in 18th-century London but I would fantastically like to be alive in the 1930s and '40s and France offered me that imaginative access to the past." When he started writing novels, he wrote a trilogy set in France, mostly in the era between World War I and World War II: The Girl at the Lion d'Or (1989), Birdsong (1993), and Charlotte Gray (1999).

It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ian Watson (books by this author), born in Tyneside, England (1943), who said: "I see science fiction now as a survival strategy generally — a metaphorical tool for thinking about the future flexibly and boldly."

His books include The Embedding (1973), The Jonah Kit (1975), Deathhunter (1981), and The Great Escape (2002).

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




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