Thursday Jan. 22, 2015

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When We Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken —hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow—
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well—
Long, long I shall rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met—
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

“When We Two Parted” by Lord Byron. Public Domain.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of soprano Rosa Ponselle, born in Meriden, Connecticut, in 1897. She was the first American-born and -trained opera star, and she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York on November 15, 1918, just after armistice was declared in Europe. Ponselle and her sister started out in vaudeville, but they wanted to break into opera. In 1918, they were taking lessons from a prominent theater manager and agent who persuaded opera superstar Enrico Caruso to listen to them sing. Afterward, Caruso walked over to Rosa and said: “You’ll sing with me. Maybe in a year or two, maybe later, but you’ll sing with me at the Metropolitan.” Caruso convinced his friend Giulio Gatti-Casazza, general manager of the Met, to take a chance on her. Gatti said: “If she succeeds, American singers will have the doors opened to them. If she fails, I will be on the first boat back to Italy, and New York will never see my face again.” Ponselle’s first starring role was Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, The Force of Destiny. A New York Times critic wrote: “What a promising debut! Added to her personal attractiveness, she possesses a voice of natural beauty that may prove a gold mine. It is vocal gold, anyhow, with its luscious lower and middle tones, dark, rich and ductile, brilliant in the upper register.” Ponselle sang with the Met for 19 seasons and, true to Gatti’s words, she helped open the door to generations of American opera singers.

It’s the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling (1973). The plaintiff was “Jane Roe,” a woman who was forbidden to seek an abortion in Texas, but couldn’t afford to travel to a neighboring state. The defendant, Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, argued that life begins at conception and therefore the state had a compelling interest in protecting that life. Justice Harry Blackmun, who had once served as counsel to the Mayo Clinic, wrote the decision. He wrote: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” Therefore, the court based its decision on the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments and the right to privacy, and ruled seven to two in favor of Jane Roe. The decision forbade states from outlawing abortions in the first trimester and set limits on regulation of abortion in the second and third trimesters. The court also required that exceptions to any regulations be made when the health of the mother was at stake.

It’s the birthday of Howard Moss (1922) (books by this author). He was born in New York City, and grew up in Rockaway Beach, in the borough of Queens. He’s best remembered as the poetry editor for The New Yorker, where he worked for almost 40 years, but he has a sizable body of his own work as well: poetry, plays, literary criticism, and satire. He received the National Book Award for his Selected Poems in 1971.

He joined The New Yorker in 1948, as the fiction editor. Two years later, he convinced Harold Ross, the magazine’s founder, to promote him to poetry editor. He nurtured the careers of many young poets, including Theodore Roethke, W.S. Merwin, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath; he also bought many more poems than the magazine could ever publish. When he took a sabbatical in 1972, he had a backlog of 130 poems he’d already paid for. The magazine just closed to new submissions while he was away, and filled its pages from the backlog.

It’s the birthday of the philosopher, essayist and statesman Francis Bacon (books by this author), born in London (1561). His main contribution to philosophy was his application of the inductive method of modern science. He supported full investigation and rejected any rational theories based upon incomplete or insufficient data. Francis Bacon said, “Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes; and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.”

It’s the birthday of novelist Aryn Kyle (books by this author), born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1978. When she was five years old, she moved to Grand Junction, a desert town in Colorado. She liked horses, took riding lessons, and competed in some horse shows. She went off to college, then to get her M.F.A. at the University of Montana. And while she was in grad school, she wrote a short story called “Foaling Season,” about a girl named Alice who lives on a horse ranch in a town called Desert Valley, Colorado, which Kyle based on Grand Junction. It was published in The Atlantic Monthly, and it went on to win the National Magazine Award for fiction. She turned it into a novel called The God of Animals (2007), with “Foaling Season” as the first chapter. The God of Animals became an award-winning best-seller.

It’s the birthday of poet Lord Byron (books by this author), born George Gordon Noel Byron in London (1788). At the age of 19, he published his first book of poetry, Hours of Idleness (1807). The Edinburgh Review printed a nasty review of the book. He was so hurt that he wrote a magnificent satire, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809), all in heroic couplets. He attacked poetry critics and most of England’s Romantic poets. During the satire’s publication process, he sent his agent constant additions and changes to the manuscript. In one letter, he wrote: “Print soon or I shall overflow with more rhyme.”

Byron left to spend a couple of years traveling around the Mediterranean, and he began work on a long poem. He returned to England in 1811, and his mother died just a few weeks later, followed by two of his friends from school. He mourned deeply. Not expecting much, he sent his agent the first two cantos of the poem he had been working on abroad, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” The first edition of 500 copies was expensive, but it sold out in three days. Two days later, a second, cheaper edition of 3,000 copies was printed. Byron said, “I awoke one morning and found myself famous.”

He soon became the darling of London high society, and he embarked on a series of love affairs. One of his lovers summed him up as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” and there were rumors that his half-sister had given birth to his child. In an attempt to end the speculation, he got married, although the marriage only lasted a year. A few months later, he left England and never returned. He died fighting in the Greek War of Independence.

His works include The Corsair (1814), The Siege of Corinth (1816), The Vision of Judgment (1821), and Don Juan (1824).

He wrote: “She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And all that’s best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes.”

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