Today’s poem is no longer available online.
“Neither Out Far Nor In Deep” by Robert Frost from Complete Poems of Robert Frost. © Henry Holt and Company, 1969. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today is Bastille Day in France, the annual commemoration of the storming of Paris’s Bastille Prison in 1789, an event that began the decade-long French Revolution. Frustrated by a severe food shortage, high taxation, and the frivolous spending of Queen Marie Antoinette, thousands of Parisian revolutionaries and mutinous troops stormed the prison in search of gunpowder. The prison held only seven inmates: four forgers, two lunatics, and one deviant aristocrat. The prisoners were annoyed by the disturbance. The conflict escalated; the crowd grew to 10,000. There were beheadings and stabbings. Informed of the insurrection, the king asked his advisor, “Is it a revolt?” His advisor answered, “No, it’s not a revolt. It’s a revolution.” Bastille Day became an official holiday in France in 1880. There are military parades, speeches, fireworks, and public revelry, with chants of “Vive le 14 juillet!” (Long live the 14th of July!)
It’s the birthday of folk singer Woody Guthrie, born on this day in Okemah, Oklahoma (1912). Guthrie’s early life was difficult: his older sister died in a coal fire and his mother, Nora Belle, was institutionalized after setting a fire that severely burned Guthrie’s father. In 1920, oil was discovered in Okemah, which led to a boom for a few years. Then the oil dried up, and the people of Okemah were, Guthrie said, “busted, disgusted, and not to be trusted.” His father quit town for Texas, leaving 14-year-old Guthrie to play harmonica for sandwiches and coins on the streets of Okemah.
Woody landed in Pampa, Texas in 1931, formed the Corn Cob Trio, and enjoyed his first taste of public success before succumbing to the realities of the Great Depression. He hitchhiked and freight-trained his way across several states, soaking up the stories of “dustbowl refugees” and refining his songwriting skills. In Los Angeles, he joined up with a woman named “Lefty Lou” and became popular with the relocated Okies living in cardboard and tin shelters.
He wrote his most famous song, “This Land is Your Land,” in New York City while living in a building for transients called Hanover House, at the corner of 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue, one block east of where the ball now falls on New Year’s Eve in Times Square. He was tired of hearing Kate Smith sing Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” on the radio. He’d seen enough during his travels to know that for many Americans, there was nothing blessed about their lives. He wrote the song in 1940, but didn’t record it until 1944. It was published in 1945 in a mimeographed booklet with 10 other songs and some of Guthrie’s drawings. The booklet cost 25 cents.
It was on this day in 1881 that Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid, was shot dead at the age of 21 by Sheriff Pat Garrett of Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Billy had escaped from the county jail and killed the two guards on duty. He headed for the home of his friend Pete Maxwell, but Garrett was waiting inside the door and shot him once above the heart.
The life and death of Billy the Kid inspired numerous books — the first of which was written by Sheriff Pat Garrett himself — as well as novels, poems, dozens of movies, and songs by artists like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Aaron Copland, and Marty Robbins.
Today is the birthday of Swedish director and writer Ingmar Bergman, born in Uppsala (1918). He studied theater in college, and made his way into the film business in 1941, rewriting screenplays. Over the next decade, he wrote and directed more than a dozen movies. His first big international success came in 1955, with Smiles of a Summer Night, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries followed in 1957.
Bergman became known for making films about mortality and isolation. In one interview, he admitted that he couldn’t watch his films anymore because he found them depressing.
And it’s the birthday of playwright Arthur Laurents (books by this author), born in Brooklyn (1917). He said: “I always wanted to write musicals. When I was a kid, really a kid — seven or eight — I lived in Brooklyn and there was a stock company and my cousin and I would go Saturday afternoons. I remember two productions. One was No, No, Nanette. I still remember them twirling the parasols, thinking, ‘Oh, this is wonderful!’ The other one was Rain by Somerset Maugham and they had real rain!”
He went on to write West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), and many more musicals and films, as well as three memoirs: Original Story By (2000), Mainly on Directing (2009), and The Rest of the Story (2012).