Sep. 21, 2012

A Day is Laid By

by May Swenson

Today's poem is available in audio form only.

"A Day is Laid By" by May Swenson, from May Out West. © May Swenson. Used with permission of The Literary Estate of May Swenson. All rights reserved. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of Girolamo Savonarola, born in Ferrara, Italy (1452). When he was 22, he left off studying medicine to join an order of Dominican monks, and he developed a reputation for his prophetic preaching. He settled in Florence in 1490, where he became the scourge of the Medici family, who were then in power. Savonarola's speeches against tyranny made him popular with the people, and the rule of the Medicis came to an end not long after the death of their leader, Lorenzo. Savonarola soon filled the void, setting up a republic and continuing to preach against the corruption of the Catholic Church.

As the head of the Church, the notoriously corrupt Pope Alexander VI was displeased by Savonarola's influence. Alexander tried first to trap him by luring him to Rome, but Savonarola saw through the scheme and refused, claiming illness. The pontiff threatened him with excommunication, and then tempted him with a Cardinalship, to which the reformer replied, "A red hat? I want a hat of blood." Eventually, he got his wish: in 1498, he was arrested, tortured, and executed by hanging and then burning. His ashes were scattered in the Arno River.

Today is the birthday of H.G. Wells (books by this author), born Herbert George Wells in Bromley, England (1866). He failed at a series of apprenticeships, but then he won a scholarship to a science college, where he learned about biology and Darwinism from Thomas Henry Huxley, grandfather of the writer Aldous Huxley. But he failed his geology exam and had to leave school. Wells had a series of medical problems and he often thought he was dying, but this only prompted him to write more and faster. Over a period of three years, he produced his three most famous books: The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). He lived until he was 79—much longer than he expected to—and he continued to produce books at a rate of two or three a year for the rest of his life; in the end, he'd published more than a hundred books.

H.G. Wells said, "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."

It's the birthday of Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen (books by this author), born in Montreal (1934). He started out as a poet, publishing a few well-received volumes in the 1950s and '60s, including Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956) and The Spice-Box of Earth (1961). He also wrote a couple of novels: The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966). But he was disappointed that writing didn't pay better, so he moved to the United States to become a folk singer and songwriter. He wasn't happy with the arrangements on his first album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), but it became a cult favorite. His 1984 album, Various Positions, included one of his most popular songs, "Hallelujah." It's been covered by nearly 200 other singers in a variety of languages.

Cohen released his 12th studio album earlier this year; it's called Old Ideas (2012).

It's the birthday of horror writer Stephen King (books by this author), born in Portland, Maine, on this date in 1947. When he was 10, he was at the local theater watching a matinee of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, and the manager interrupted the film to announce that the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik. Stephen King says that for the first time, he saw "a useful connection between the world of fantasy and that of what My Weekly Reader used to call Current Events." He decided that the main purpose of horror was "its ability to form a liaison between our fantasy fears and our real fears." After coming upon an H.P. Lovecraft paperback in the attic, he decided to write horror stories himself.

Eventually, he took a job teaching high school, and that inspired him to write about a troubled and telekinetic teenage girl. But he decided his story was worthless and threw it out. His wife, Tabitha, took it out of the trash, read it, and thought it was promising. She told him to keep writing, so he did, and Carrie was published (1974). It didn't get great reviews, but it went on to sell more than 4 million copies.

At 65, King is as prolific as ever. The eighth installment of his Dark Tower series just came out last spring (2012). His next book, due out in 2013, is a sequel to The Shining (1977), and he's currently at work on Joyland, a novel about a serial killer in an amusement park.

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (books by this author) was first published on this date in 1937, with an initial run of 1,500 copies. A few years earlier, a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, Tolkien, was grading papers and he turned one of those papers over and wrote, "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit." He didn't really know what that meant, or what a hobbit was. But in the next few years, he drew a map of the sort of world he thought a hobbit would live in, and then he started to write a story about a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins.

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




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