Oct. 2, 2012

What is Divinity

by Wallace Stevens

What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch,
These are the measures destined for her soul.

"What is Divinity" by Wallace Stevens, from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. © Alfred A. Knopf, 1990. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the 560th birthday of England's King Richard III, born at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire (1452). He was the 11th child of the Duke of York, and the last of the royal Plantagenet dynasty, which had held the throne since 1154. He fought at Bosworth Field, the final battle of the Wars of the Roses between two factions of the Plantagenet line, and there he became the last English king to die on the battlefield. He was 32, and he had reigned for just two years. His opponent, Henry Tudor, became King Henry VII.

Richard III has a bad reputation, due in part to rumors and accusations spread by Henry Tudor, and in part to Shakespeare's depiction of him in the play by the same name. Richard is guilty of many of the major charges against him. He did imprison his young nephews — one of whom was about to be crowned king — in the Tower of London, and began a publicity campaign saying that the boys were illegitimate. When a gathering of lords and commoners endorsed these claims, Richard took the throne for himself. He was crowned in July, and the princes in the Tower disappeared in August. Their fate remains a mystery.

After Richard's death, Henry VII portrayed him as an evil schemer — in part because Henry's claim to the throne was also tenuous. Many of the other things we associate with him — a hunched back, a crippled arm, and a limp — were probably inventions of Shakespeare's to make his character monstrous on the outside as well as the inside. And the politically savvy playwright was also mindful of his audience: Queen Elizabeth I was the granddaughter of Henry Tudor, Richard's opponent and successor.

Today is the birthday of poet Wallace Stevens (books by this author), born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1879). After going to law school, he took a job with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, and he worked there for the rest of his life. He walked two miles to and from work every day, and that's when he wrote his poems, scribbling notes on slips of paper and then giving them to his secretary to type up when he got to the office. Some people thought it was odd for an insurance man to write poetry. Stevens did not. He said, "It gives a man character as a poet to have this daily contact with a job."

He published his first collection, Harmonium (1923), when he was 43. Many of the poems in the collection have become classics, including "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

It's the birthday of novelist Graham Greene (books by this author), born in Hertfordshire, England (1904). He's the author of such novels as The Power and the Glory (1940), The End of the Affair (1951), and Our Man in Havana (1958).

The End of the Affair was inspired in part by Greene's own extramarital affairs. His London home was bombed one night during the Blitz. Greene would surely have been killed — except that he was spending the night with his mistress. As his wife later remarked, "His life was saved because of his infidelity."

The comic strip Peanuts made its debut on this date in 1950. The strip's creator, Charles M. Schulz (books by this author), was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1922 and grew up next door in St. Paul. His kindergarten teacher had told him, "Some day, Charles, you are going to be an artist." When he got to first grade and discovered that he had a knack for drawing Popeye, he decided that he would become a cartoonist. Young Charles, or "Sparky" as he was then known, skipped two and a half grades of grammar school, so he was always the youngest and smallest in the room, and the other kids picked on him. He became a shy, timid teenager, failing at least one subject every year of high school. Discouraged, Schulz gave up on going to college and enrolled in an art school as a correspondence student.

In 1950, he approached a large U.S. syndication service with the best of his work, and he was given a syndication of eight local papers in a variety of U.S. cities. His strip was renamed Peanuts. The strip was an almost immediate success that expanded from its original eight newspapers to more than 2,600 papers in 75 countries at its peak.

The Twilight Zone premiered on this date in 1959. The show's creator, Rod Serling, had been a successful TV writer for several years, penning hard-hitting dramas that often ran afoul of the censors. He wrote about controversial issues like lynching, racism, and political corruption, and the networks almost always heavily revised his scripts before they aired. Sick of censorship, Serling walked away from realistic drama and began to explore science fiction instead. He soon realized that he could explore the same issues, but if he called it sci-fi, no one seemed bothered by his commentary on nuclear war or McCarthyism.

The Twilight Zone was a tough sell at first. Many critics dismissed science fiction as empty escapism, and journalist Mike Wallace asked Serling whether he'd "given up on writing anything important for television."

The show ran for five seasons, and it gave audiences an early glimpse at many future stars, including Robert Redford, William Shatner, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Carol Burnett. It also featured Hollywood legends like Buster Keaton and Mickey Rooney.

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




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