As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last,
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun
Or Nature spending with herself
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.
“As imperceptibly as Grief” by Emily Dickinson. Public Domain. (buy now)
It's the birthday of science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin (books by this author), born in Berkeley, California (1929). She grew up in a family of academics. Her mother, Theodora Kroeber, was a psychologist and writer. Her father, Alfred Kroeber, was the first person to receive a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University—he's been called the "Dean of American anthropologists." He specialized in researching Native American cultures, and so Ursula grew up with Native American myths.
When she was young, over the course of 10 years, she wrote five novels, none of which were published. Publishers in the 1950s thought her writing was too "remote." So she began to write science fiction and fantasy, and she has been incredibly prolific for the last four decades. She has published more than 100 short stories, 20 novels, 11 children's books, six volumes of poetry, and four volumes of translation. She's best known for her Earthsea books, a fantasy series that takes place in a world populated by wizards and dragons. She also wrote the Hainish Cycle — science fiction novels set in an imaginary universe where the residents are genderless.
An interviewer once asked her advice for writers, and she replied: "I am going to be rather hard-nosed and say that if you have to find devices to coax yourself to stay focused on writing, perhaps you should not be writing what you're writing. And if this lack of motivation is a constant problem, perhaps writing is not your forte. I mean, what is the problem? If writing bores you, that is pretty fatal. If that is not the case, but you find that it is hard going and it just doesn't flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work."
It was on this day in 1879 that the inventor Thomas Edison finally struck upon the idea for a workable electric light. People had been trying to make electric lights since the 1820s to replace kerosene and gas lamps, but they had chosen the wrong material for the filament: platinum. And Edison tried carbonized cotton thread, carbon filament that worked much better. He later improved the design with a tungsten filament that lasted longer and glowed brighter.
One of the effects of the invention of the electric light is that people sleep less than they once did. Before 1910, people slept an average of nine hours a night; since then, it's about seven and a half. Sleep researchers have shown in the laboratory that if people are deprived of electric light, they will go back to the nine-hour-a-night schedule.
It's the birthday of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (books by this author), born in Ottery St. Mary in Devonshire, England (1772). Coleridge is the author of poems such as "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Christabel," and "Frost at Midnight." As a small boy, he spent a lot of time reading. His favorite book was The Arabian Nights. His father died when he was 10, and then he had to go off to boarding school at Christ's Hospital in London. It was known as the "blue-coat school," where everyone had to wear a blue gown, a blue cap and yellow stockings. Coleridge hated it there. He would later write that "I was reared / In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim, / And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars." But he had one teacher who helped inspire him to become a poet. He said he learned that "in the truly great poets ... there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word."
Coleridge went to college in Cambridge. Then he dropped out to join the army. He didn't want anyone to know who he was, so he called himself Silas Tomkyn Comberbache. He wasn't a very good soldier, though, and soon he left to rejoin society and talk about the new ideas of the French Revolution. He also spent time with the poet Robert Southey. The two of them dreamed up an idea to start a utopian village along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. They said it would be a place where there was no aristocracy. Southey said, "When Coleridge and I are sawing down a tree, we shall discuss metaphysics; criticise poetry when hunting a buffalo, and write sonnets whilst following the plough."
Coleridge never went to Pennsylvania, and instead he ended up getting married to a woman named Sara Fricker. In 1797, Coleridge and Fricker moved to a small house in the country. There he tended a vegetable garden and doted over his newborn son. That same year he became good friends with the poet William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy. One winter evening, the three of them took a long walk in the nearby hills called the Quantocks. They timed their walk so they would be able to watch the sunlight change to moonlight over the sea. It was then that Coleridge came up with the idea for "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," a poem about a sailor who brings a curse upon his ship after he kills an albatross. In 1798, he included the poem in a collection he published with Wordsworth called Lyrical Ballads. The book was the foundation of the Romantic movement in poetry. Wordsworth said they were trying to write poems where "ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way."
Coleridge was often sick. The doctors prescribed him small doses of opium, and he gradually became addicted to it. By the age of 30, he had become very depressed. He quarreled with his wife and fell in love with Wordsworth's sister-in-law. He wrote a poem called "Dejection: An Ode" and then sailed to the island of Malta to improve his health. He gradually regained his strength and lived to write many more poems.
Coleridge said, "I could inform the dullest author how he might write an interesting book — let him relate the events of his own Life with honesty, not disguising the feelings that accompanied them."