Dec. 9, 2012

Excerpt from Paradise Lost

by John Milton

(Eve speaks to Adam)

With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and their change, all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds; pleasant the sun
When first on this delightful land he spreads
His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower,
Glistering with dew; fragrant the fertile earth
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on
Of grateful evening mild, then silent night
With this her solemn bird and this fair moon,
And these the gems of heav'n, her starry train:
But neither breath of morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest birds, nor rising sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flower,
Glistring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful evening mild, nor silent night
With this her solemn bird, nor walk by moon,
Or glittering starlight without thee is sweet.

"Excerpt from Paradise Lost" by John Milton, from Paradise Lost. © Dover Editions, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this date in 1793, Noah Webster established the first daily newspaper in New York City. Called American Minerva, Webster used it as a vehicle to spread his pro-Federalist views and counteract what he saw as too much French propaganda in the fledgling United States. In 1797, he changed the name to the Commercial Advertiser; he remained at the helm for four years. After Webster left the paper, he moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he began work on the first of his famous dictionaries. Eventually, the paper merged with the New York Globe in 1904, and it was later bought by The Sun.

It's the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. Theodore Roosevelt formally recognized the Petrified Forest as a National Monument in 1906, after John Muir visited the area and recommended that it be preserved. Congress passed a bill to elevate the status of the monument into a park on this date in 1962. The park gets its name from fossilized logs, remnants of the forest that stood in the area 225 million years ago. In addition to the trees, the region is home to many other kinds of fossils: giant reptiles, early dinosaurs, and hundreds of plant varieties, with new species being discovered every year. All the fossils were exposed when a shift of the Earth's plates pushed up the Colorado Plateau, and the surrounding ground and rock were worn away by wind and water. The park is also home to hundreds of archeological sites left behind by human inhabitants, including dwellings and petroglyphs.

During the 1930s and '40s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was put to work building roads and trails through the park. In 2004, President George Bush increased the boundaries of the park, more than doubling it. It's one of the largest areas of intact grassland in the southwestern United States.

On this date in 1979, a panel of scientists declared the smallpox virus to be eradicated. It's the first and only disease to be driven to extinction through human efforts.

The disease itself has probably been around since at least 10,000 B.C.E. Evidence of smallpox scars has been found on Egyptian mummies, and the decline of the Roman Empire coincides with a particularly bad outbreak that claimed 7 million people. It spread from northern Africa throughout Europe and Asia, and came to the New World with Spanish explorers. British forces used it as a biological weapon against Indians in the 18th century.

Credit for the vaccine, and the science of immunology, usually goes to Edward Jenner, an English doctor. Jenner was one of thousands of English children who had been inoculated with live smallpox in 1757. He developed a mild case of the disease and recovered. He grew up to become a doctor, and in the course of his practice, he heard a milkmaid brag that she could never catch smallpox because she'd already had caught cowpox from the cows. Cowpox was closely related to smallpox, but it had much milder effects on its human victims. So Jenner injected fluid from a cowpox sore into the arm of an eight-year-old boy. And six weeks later, he injected the boy again, this time with live smallpox. The boy showed no symptoms, because his body had developed antibodies. Jenner devoted his life to promoting the practice of vaccination, and vaccinated the poor for free. Less than 50 years later, the British government passed a law to provide free smallpox vaccinations to all infants.

In spite of Jenner's efforts to advance public health, smallpox still had a devastating effect in developing countries where vaccination wasn't practiced. In 1967, the World Health Organization announced a campaign to eradicate the disease worldwide. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox was diagnosed 10 years later, in 1977, and a panel of scientists certified the disease's eradication on this date, two years after that.

Today is the birthday of John Milton (books by this author), born in London (1608). Though he wanted to be a poet, he spent most of his life working as a political pamphleteer, calling for freedom to divorce and freedom of the press. He wrote, among other things, "Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye." He also spoke out against the king during England's civil war, which was fine as long as the king was deposed and Oliver Cromwell was leading the Commonwealth. But eventually, the monarchy was restored and Milton, who by this time had severe glaucoma, became a public enemy. His pamphlets were burned, and people said God had smote him with blindness for his treason against the Crown.

Newly unemployed, Milton returned to poetry. He composed the verses in his head, reciting them over and over until he found someone — friends, family, or hired help — who could write them down. And in this way, he wrote an English epic poem in blank verse: Paradise Lost (1667), which was originally called Adam Unparadised. It's about the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, and their fall from the earthly paradise of the Garden of Eden. Milton published a sequel four years later; it's called Paradise Regained (1671), and it's about the temptation of Christ.

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




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show