Thursday Apr. 7, 2016

0:00/ 0:00

I Have Thoughts that Are Fed by the Sun

I have thoughts that are fed by the sun:
     The things which I see
     Are welcome to me,
     Welcome every one –
     I do not wish to lie
          Dead, dead,
Dead, without any company.
     Here alone on my bed
With thoughts that are fed by the sun,
And hopes that are welcome every one,
     Happy am I.

Oh life there is about thee
A deep delicious peace;
I would not be without thee,
     Stay, oh stay!
Yet be thou ever as now –
Sweetness and breath, with the quiet of death –
Be but thou ever as now,
     Peace, peace, peace.

“I Have Thoughts that Are Fed by the Sun” by William Wordsworth. Public Domain.  (buy now)

Herbert Hoover appeared on the first city-to-city television broadcast on this date in 1927. Hoover was Commerce Secretary at that time, and his appearance was broadcast from Washington, D.C., to an auditorium in New York City. The technology used to broadcast his speech was only one of several competing television technologies. This one was called Radio Vision, and it never really caught on.

The broadcast began with a close-up of Hoover’s forehead, because he was sitting too close to the camera. But Hoover backed up to deliver the speech, and he said, “It is a matter of just pride to have a part in this historic occasion [...] the transmission of sight, for the first time in the world’s history.” He also said, “All we can say today is that there has been created a marvelous agency for whatever use the future may find with the full realization that every great and fundamental discovery of the past has been followed by use far beyond the vision of its creator.” Hoover was followed by a comedian performing jokes in blackface.

The New York Times gave the broadcast a rave review, writing, “It was fun as if a photograph had suddenly come to life and begun to talk, smile, nod its head and look this way and that.”

It’s the birthday of poet William Wordsworth (books by this author), born in Cockermouth, England (1770). Both of his parents died during his childhood, and he was put in the care of his uncles. In 1787, Wordsworth received a scholarship to attend St. John’s College at Cambridge, where his uncle was a fellow and intended to pass on the role to his nephew. But Wordsworth didn’t like Cambridge, and preferred to educate himself; he wrote later: “I was not for that hour / Or for that place.”

During the summer before his senior year, Wordsworth was expected to spend his break studying with a tutor for his final examinations. Instead, he set off on a walking tour of Europe with his friend Robert Jones. They wanted to see the Alps and intended to travel through France, Switzerland, and into northern Italy. As he remembered it later, they were each equipped with a walking stick, £20 in their pockets, and all they needed for three months tied up in a pocket-handkerchief.

Wordsworth didn’t tell anyone in his family about his plan until the two men had arrived at their starting point in France. They arrived on July 13th, just in time for the one-year anniversary of Bastille Day, and were thrown into the celebrations and passion of the French Revolution. He described “France standing on the top of golden hours, / And human nature seeming born again. / [...] How bright a face is worn when joy of one / Is joy of tens of millions.”

Wordsworth and his friend left behind the celebrations of France for the quieter villages and wilderness of the Alps. In the French Alps, they visited the monastery of Grande Chartreuse in early August, and spent two days resting there after three weeks of nonstop walking. He was deeply moved by the grand architecture and quiet monks in the sublime mountain landscape, and wrote about the monastery many times over the years. From there, the pair continued on, past Mont Blanc and through the Valley of Chamonix, “with its dumb cataracts and streams of ice.” They hiked south toward Italy, through the Simplon Pass and down the Gondo Gorge from Switzerland into Italy, at which point they had successfully crossed the Alps. Wordsworth described the woods, huge waterfalls, craggy rocks, and howling winds, and wrote that “Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light / Were all like workings of one mind.” Eventually, they headed north again, took a boat up the Rhine, and arrived back in England in mid-October. Wordsworth sat for his final examinations and failed to distinguish himself.

Later in his life, Wordsworth drew heavily on this trip in an autobiographical poem that he called The Prelude. He imagined it as first a coda — and later, an introduction — to a long three-part poem called The Recluse that would contain his views on philosophy, nature, poetics, and the human condition. Over the course of many years, he wrote a poetic outline of The Recluse, as well as Part Two (The Excursion), but he never completed Parts One and Three.

However, he did complete the autobiographical Prelude, which described all of the experiences and places from his walking trip in 1790 and return trips to Europe: the Revolutionary celebrations in France, the Grand Chartreuse monastery, the Valley of Chamonix, the descent down the Gondo Gorge. But Wordsworth refused to publish it before The Recluse was completed, and no one is quite sure why. He wrote: “It was a thing unprecedented in literary history that a man should talk so much about himself.” The Prelude was published in 1850, three months after Wordsworth’s death, and is generally considered his greatest work.

It is the birthday of Marjory Stoneman Douglas (books by this author), the American conservationist and writer who told the world about the Florida Everglades. She was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1890). Her parents divorced and she grew up in Massachusetts with her mother’s family.

She graduated from Wellesley College as Class Orator, and soon afterward her mother died. She drifted around the country working department store jobs, failed at marriage, and eventually reunited with her father who was editor of the Miami Herald. There she became what she wanted to be: a writer. She produced novels, books of short stories, plays, poems, and hundreds of articles. And she won an O. Henry award.

She is most remembered for her book The Everglades: River of Grass (1947), published the same year that Everglades National Park was dedicated. In the book she dispels the myth that the Everglades is a swamp, describing it as a broad shallow waterway that sustains several species, many endangered. She also described the people, politics, and money surrounding Florida’s population explosion, which helped pass legislation to protect the Glades. It also helped her start the organization Friends of the Everglades.

When she was 103, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. When she died five years later, her ashes were spread over the Everglades.

It’s the birthday of jazz singer Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1915). Her father was a jazz guitarist, but she grew up in poverty and dropped out of school in the fifth grade. She first heard jazz records at a brothel in Baltimore where she ran errands and scrubbed the floor as a young girl. When she was 12, she moved to Harlem with her mother.

She wanted to be a dancer, but when she couldn’t find work at local clubs, she tried her hand at singing. She built up a local following, and in 1933 she got her big breakthrough when she was discovered by the jazz producer John Hammond. By the early ’30s, she was touring with jazz legends like Count Basie and Lester Young, and by the 1940s she was already being called the best jazz singer of all time.

It’s the birthday of the post-modern novelist and short-story writer Donald Barthelme (books by this author), born in Philadelphia (1931) and raised in Houston, Texas. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, but he arrived in Korea the same day that the truce was signed. He dreamed of writing for The New Yorker, so he started writing short stories and sending them to the magazine. And not long after that, they started getting accepted. He went on to publish four novels, including Snow White (1967), a contemporary take on the fairy tale, and many short-story collections, including Come Back, Dr. Caligari (1964) and Sixty Stories (1981). His short stories were usually very short, a style that’s sometimes labeled “flash fiction,” without the kind of narrative arc that’s traditional in stories, and with quirky plots: “Daumier,” for example, is the story of a Texas ranch with a herd of beautiful girls instead of cattle.

He wrote, “The aim of literature [...] is the creation of a strange object covered with fur which breaks your heart.”

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