May 11, 2014

To Daffodils

by Robert Herrick

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain'd his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray'd together, we
Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer's rain;
Or as the pearls of morning's dew,
Ne'er to be found again.

"To Daffodils" by Robert Herrick. Public Domain. (buy now)

It's the second Sunday in May, which is Mother's Day here in the United States. It's Mother's Day in other countries, too, including Denmark, Italy, Venezuela, Turkey, Australia, and Japan.

A woman named Anna Jarvis was the person behind the official establishment of Mother's Day. Her mother, Anna Reeves Jarvis, had a similar idea, and in 1905 the daughter swore at her mother's grave to dedicate her life to the project. She campaigned tirelessly for the holiday. In 1907, she passed out 500 white carnations at her mother's church, St. Andrew's Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia — one for each mother in the congregation. In 1912, West Virginia became the first state to adopt an official Mother's Day, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday.

Anna Jarvis became increasingly concerned over the commercialization of Mother's Day. She said, "I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." She was against the selling of flowers, and she called greeting cards "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write." Nevertheless, Mother's Day has become one of the best days of the year for florists. When Anna Jarvis lived the last years of her life in nursing home without a penny to her name, her bills were paid, unbeknownst to her, by the Florist's Exchange.

Today is the birthday of Mari Sandoz (books by this author), born near Hay Springs, Nebraska (1896). Her father, a Swiss homesteader, was a harsh and bitter man, and her mother was cold and remote. Sandoz was the oldest child of six, and was constantly working around the house, but she still found moments here and there to scribble down her tales. She published her first story when she was 11 years old, and when her father found out, he beat her and locked her in the cellar, because he considered artists and writers "the maggots of society."

She attended school sporadically, whenever her parents would permit her. She didn't finish eighth grade until she was 17, and then promptly sneaked off to take the schoolteacher's exam. She never went to high school, but began teaching instead, and as soon as she was 18 she married a neighbor, Wray Macumber, to escape her family home. The marriage was no salvation; her husband was as harsh as her father was, and she divorced him five years later, citing "extreme mental cruelty." When she was 26, a sympathetic dean let her take classes at the University of Nebraska in spite of her lack of a high school diploma. She lived on whatever she could scrounge from the dining hall — tea and crackers, mostly. She really wanted to be a writer, and never gave up despite discouragement from all corners. She claimed once that she had received more than a thousand rejection letters.

In 1928, when she was 32 years old, she was summoned home to see her father on his deathbed. His dying wish was for her to write his life story. She had always wanted to write about the West, so she took up the challenge and began the exhaustive research that eventually went into her biography, called Old Jules (1935). This book, like her others, was repeatedly rejected, and the few articles she was publishing in newspapers and magazines didn't make enough money to live on. In 1933 — malnourished and suffering from migraines — she moved back home to live with her mother. She dumped almost all of her rejected manuscripts into a washtub and burned them in the yard.

Things turned around for her the following year, though. She got a good job in Lincoln with the Nebraska State Historical Society. She was associate editor of Nebraska History magazine, and she was at work on a new novel, called Sloghum House (1937). She also revised Old Jules and submitted it to Atlantic Press's nonfiction contest. The book won the contest and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. She was finally able to support herself with the money she made from writing. She wrote more than two dozen books in her lifetime, but she's most famous for Old Jules and her several volumes on the Plains Indians, including Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas (1942) and Cheyenne Autumn (1953), which inspired the John Ford film of the same name (1964).

It's the birthday of Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline, in Russia (1888). He came to New York City with his family when he was five. When his first song, "Marie from Sunny Italy" (1907) was published, a printer's error called him Irving Berlin, and he kept the name. He went on to write more than 1,500 songs, including a long list of classics like "Blue Skies," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "God Bless America," and "There's No Business Like Show Business." He said, "The toughest thing about success is that you've got to keep on being a success."

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
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