Nov. 28, 2012

Holy Thursday

by William Blake

'Twas on a holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames waters flow.

O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among:
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

"Holy Thursday" by William Blake, from Selected Poems. © Penguin Classics, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of theater critic Brooks Atkinson, born in Melrose, Massachusetts (1894). From the time he was young, he wanted to be a journalist; he even produced his own newspaper using movable type. He eventually became the drama critic for The New York Times, where he reviewed plays for more than four decades. After a night at the theater, he would return to the Times offices, light up his pipe, and write his whole review by hand on a yellow legal pad — as he finished each page, he would hand it off to be typed.

He said, "The humorous man recognizes that absolute purity, absolute justice, absolute logic and perfection are beyond human achievement and that men have been able to live happily for thousands of years in a state of genial frailty."

It's the birthday of writer and physicist Alan Lightman (books by this author), born in Memphis, Tennessee (1948). His first novel, Einstein's Dreams (1993), was a short book made up of 30 dreams that Lightman imagined Albert Einstein might have had during the months of 1905 when he was working on his theory of special relativity. Einstein's Dreams became an international best-seller.

His other novels include Good Benito (1995), The Diagnosis (2000), and most recently, Mr g (2012), in which the main character is God.

It's the birthday of poet William Blake (books by this author), born in London (1757). He started seeing visions when he was a young boy — God in the window, angels in trees. He apprenticed to an engraver, and spent his life as a little-known printmaker and poet.

In 1809, Blake opened an exhibition of his art on the first floor of his brother's hosiery shop. He called the show "Poetical and Historical Inventions." He left the show up for a year, but not many people attended, and not a single piece of art was sold. There was only one review of the show, by an art critic named Robert Hunt, who described Blake as an "unfortunate lunatic" in his review.

Blake died in poverty in 1827, at the age of 69. In the 30 years after publishing Songs of Innocence and of Experience, fewer than 20 copies had sold. Three years after his death, he was mentioned in a popular six-volume encyclopedia of British artists. The real breakthrough came when Alexander Gilchrist, a young admirer of Blake, set out to write his biography. Gilchrist died before it was finished, but his wife, Anne, took over the task. In 1863, Life of William Blake was published — it was subtitled Pictor Ignotus, or "unknown artist," because Blake was so obscure. Besides telling Blake's life story and claiming that he was not, in fact, insane, Gilchrist quoted many of Blake's poems, and included his illustrations. The Life of William Blake was hugely popular, and for the first time, Blake was considered a major English poet.

William Blake said, "The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself."

It's the birthday of novelist Rita Mae Brown (books by this author), born in Hanover, Pennsylvania (1944). When she was in her late 20s, she wrote a novel called Rubyfruit Jungle (1973),the coming-of-age story of Molly Bolt, and her lesbian experiences in high school and beyond. Brown sent the book to agents to try and interest them, but that didn't work; one of them actually threw the manuscript at Brown, called her a pervert, and told her to get out of her office. So she sent it directly to every publisher she could think of, but no one was interested. Finally, she sent it to a tiny, newly formed feminist publisher, and they agreed to print a few thousand copies and pay Brown $1,000. Most big bookstores wouldn't even carry books by such a small publisher, so Rubyfruit Jungle was sold by mail or from the backs of cars. The publisher didn't put out a single ad, and the novel didn't get a single review. But the book became a word-of-mouth hit and sold 70,000 copies in four years, at which point it was picked up by a major publisher. Rubyfruit Jungle has now sold more than a million copies.

Brown has published almost 40 books since then, including Sudden Death (1984), Venus Envy (1994), and Alma Mater (2002).

She said: "If you can't raise consciousness, at least raise hell."

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




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