Literary Birthdays – Week of April 26 – May 2

April 26

Marcus Aurelius
(born in April 121CE) – Roman emperor (161-180 AD), philosopher – Meditations (167)

Excerpt from Meditations

From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.

From the reputation and remembrance of my father, modesty and a manly character.

From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich.

From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally.

From my governor, to be neither of the green nor of the blue party at the games in the Circus, nor a partisan either of the Parmularius or the Scutarius at the gladiators’ fights; from him too I learned endurance of labour, and to want little, and to work with my own hands,and not to meddle with other people’s affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander.

* * *

Of human life, time is a point; the substance is in flux, and the perception dull, and the composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgement. And, to say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapour, and life is a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and after-fame is oblivion. What then is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only one, philosophy.

* * *

In every pain let this thought be present, that there is no dishonour in it, nor does it make the governing intelligence worse, for it does not damage the intelligence either so far as the intelligence is rational or so far as it is social. Indeed in the case of most pains let this remark of Epicurus aid thee, that pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting, if thou bearest in mind that it has its limits, and if thou addest nothing to it in imagination: and remember this too, that we do not perceive that many things which are disagreeable to us are the same as pain, such as excessive drowsiness, and being scorched by heat, and having no appetite. When then thou art discontented about any of these things, say to thyself, that thou art yielding to pain.

I.M. Pei (born April 26, 1917) – Architect – Concept Sketches – Musée d’Art Moderne in Luxembourg

See I.M. Pei’s sketches for the Musée d’Art Moderne

Carol Burnett (born April 26, 1933) – U.S. comedian – The Carol Burnett Show

See Carol Burnett and Tim Conway in the Man vs Plant skit
The Carol Burnett Show)

April 27

NPG x127589; Cecil Day-Lewis by Bassano

by Bassano, 2 June 1939

Cecil Day Lewis (pseudonym Nicholas Blake) (born April 27, 1904) – Anglo-Irish poet (UK Poet Laureate), detective fiction writer (Nigel Strangeway series) – There’s Trouble Brewing (1957)

Read about Cecil Day Lewis here

Read Google Books excerpts from the Nicholas Blake mystery
A Penknife in My Heart

The Whispering Roots

Roots are for holding on, and holding dear.
Mine, like a child’s milk teeth, came gently away
From Ireland at the close of my second year.
Is it second childhood now — that I overhear
Them whisper across a lifetime as if from yesterday?

We have had blood enough and talk of blood,
These sixty years. Exiles are two a penny
And race a rancid word; a meaningless word
For the Anglo-Irish; a flighty cuckoo brood
Foisted on alien nests, they knew much pride and many

Falls. But still my roots go whispering on
Like rain on a soft day. Whatever lies
Beneath their cadence I could not disown;
An Irish stranger’s voice, its tang and tone,
Recalls a family language I thrill to recognize.

All the melodious places only seen
On a schoolboy’s map — Kinsale, Meath, Connemara;
Writers — Swift, Berkeley, Goldsmith, Sheridan:
Fighters, from Vinegar Hill to Stephen’s Green:
The Sidhe, saints, scholars, rakes of Mallow, kings of Tara —

Were background music to my ignorant youth.
Now on a rising wind louder it swells
From the lonely hills of Laois. What can a birth –
Place mean, its features comely or uncouth,
To a long-rootless man? Yet still the place compels.

We Anglo-Irish and the memory of us
Are thinning out. Bad landlords some, some good,
But never of a land rightfully ours,
We hunted, fished, swore by our ancestors,
Till we were ripped like parasite growth from native wood.

And still the land compels me; not ancestral
Ghosts, nor regret for childhood’s fabled charms,
But a rare peacefulness, consoling, festal,
As if the old religion we oppressed all
Those years folded the stray within a father’s arms.

The modern age has passed this island by
And it’s the peace of death her revenants find?
Harsh Dublin wit, peasant vivacity
Are here to give your shallow claims the lie.
Perhaps in such soil only the heart’s long roots will bind —

Even, transplanted, quiveringly respond
To their first parent earth. Here God is taken
For granted, time like a well-tutored hound
Brought to man’s heel, and ghosting underground
Something flows to the exile from what has been foresaken.

In age, body swept on, mind crawls upstream
Toward the source; not thinking to find there
Visions or fairy gold — what old men dream
Is pure restatement of the original theme,
A sense of rootedness, a source held near and dear.

Listen to Cecil Day Lewis read 4 of his poems:

Russell T Davies (b. 1963) – British television writer – Queer As Folk, Doctor Who (Revival)

April 28

(Nelle) Harper Lee (born April 28, 1926) – U.S. novelist – To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)


Read the Wikipedia article on Harper Lee

Read a New Yorker article about Lee and her biography Mockingbird
One year, Lee’s father gave her and Truman [Capote] a twenty-pound Underwood typewriter, which the two children managed to shift back and forth between their houses and use in the composition of collaborative fictions about the neighbors.

In 1959, when Capote asked Lee to accompany him to Kansas while he looked into the murder of the Clutter family, he was thirty-five and already famous, a sort of self-hatched Fabergé egg—the author of high-gloss magazine journalism, some dankly suggestive Southern-gothic fiction, and the silvery “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Lee was just reaching the end of a decade-long literary struggle. After dropping out of the University of Alabama, in 1948, the year Capote published his first book, she had gone to New York to write one of her own…

Michael Brown, a lyricist who worked with Capote on a musical adapted from his story “House of Flowers,” became, along with his wife, Joy, a crucial friend and benefactor. In 1956, as a Christmas present, they gave Lee enough money to take a year off from her job. Brown also steered her toward the husband-and-wife agents Maurice Crain and Annie Laurie Williams, who had sold the movie rights to “Gone with the Wind.” The couple were cool to Lee’s short stories, but were willing to take a chance on a novel called, first, “Go Set a Watchman”; then, at Maurice Crain’s suggestion, “Atticus”; and, finally, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Read “A letter from Harper Lee” ( July 2006 Edition of O: the Oprah Magazine)

Dear Oprah,

Do you remember when you learned to read, or like me, can you not even remember a time when you didn’t know how? I must have learned from having been read to by my family. My sisters and brother, much older, read aloud to keep me from pestering them; my mother read me a story every day, usually a children’s classic, and my father read from the four newspapers he got through every evening. Then, of course, it was Uncle Wiggily at bedtime.

So I arrived in the first grade, literate, with a curious cultural assimilation of American history, romance, the Rover Boys, Rapunzel, and The Mobile Press. Early signs of genius? Far from it. Reading was an accomplishment I shared with several local contemporaries. Why this endemic precocity? Because in my hometown, a remote village in the early 1930s, youngsters had little to do but read. A movie? Not often–movies weren’t for small children. A park for games? Not a hope. We’re talking unpaved streets here, and the Depression.

Books were scarce. There was nothing you could call a public library, we were a hundred miles away from a department store’s books section, so we children began to circulate reading material among ourselves until each child had read another’s entire stock. There were long dry spells broken by the new Christmas books, which started the rounds again.

As we grew older, we began to realize what our books were worth: Anne of Green Gables was worth two Bobbsey Twins; two Rover Boys were an even swap for two Tom Swifts. Aesthetic frissons ran a poor second to the thrills of acquisition. The goal, a full set of a series, was attained only once by an individual of exceptional greed–he swapped his sister’s doll buggy.

We were privileged. There were children, mostly from rural areas, who had never looked into a book until they went to school. They had to be taught to read in the first grade, and we were impatient with them for having to catch up. We ignored them.

And it wasn’t until we were grown, some of us, that we discovered what had befallen the children of our African-American servants. In some of their schools, pupils learned to read three-to-one–three children to one book, which was more than likely a cast-off primer from a white grammar school. We seldom saw them until, older, they came to work for us.

Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it.

And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up–some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.

The village of my childhood is gone, with it most of the book collectors, including the dodgy one who swapped his complete set of Seckatary Hawkinses for a shotgun and kept it until it was retrieved by an irate parent.

Now we are three in number and live hundreds of miles away from each other. We still keep in touch by telephone conversations of recurrent theme: “What is your name again?” followed by “What are you reading?” We don’t always remember.

Jay Leno (born April 28, 1950) – U.S. comedian, talk show host – The Tonight Show

“I was a philosophy major for 4 years in college.  Had dreams of opening up a little philosophy shop…”

April 29

Jerry Seinfeld (born April 29, 1954) – U.S. comedian – Seinfeld

Watch one of Jerry Seinfeld’s early 1980s standup routines on
The Merv Griffin Show (4 mins):

April 30

good-soldier-svejkJaroslav Hašek (born April 30, 1883) – Czech novelist, humorist – The Good Soldier Svejk

Read Paul K’s July 2008 BiblioOdyssey blog post about Hasek and The Good Soldier Svejk, with illustrations from the original edition. This satire was the inspiration for Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.

Willie Nelson (born April 30, 1933) – U.S. country singer/sonwriter – Crazy

Watch Willie perform his song Bloody Mary Morning
in this 1970s video on YouTube:

May 1

pierre teilhard de chardin
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (born May 1, 1881) – French Jesuit, paleontologist, philosopher – The Phenomenon of Man (1959)

Read this Wired article about de Chardin’s theories that presaged Gaia hypotheses:
or read the December 2008 Compossivel blog post about de Chardin’s evolutionary optimism:

Judy Collins

Judy Collins (born May 1, 1939) – U.S. singer/songwriter – Wings of Angels album

Judy Collins in 1966 singing “In My Life”

Wings of Angels
Words and Music by Judy Collins

Wings of angels tears of saints
Prayers and promises won’t bring you back
Come to me in dreams again
Wings of angels tears of saints

I lost you on a winter’s day
In that cold city far away
A city by a river deep
With promises you could not keep
A place where you had gone to try
A place where you had longed to fly
A city smiling when you cried
A city sleeping when you died

Wings of angels tears of saints
Prayers and promises won’t bring you back
Come to me in dreams again
Wings of angels tears of saints

In that cathedral by the hill
We stood and smiled in happier days
The fields along the river’s edge
You fished and traveled hungrily
Your light burned in that sunny sky
Your voice above the water rang
I’d give it up give all I have
For one more chance to hear you sing

Wings of angels tears of saints
Prayers and promises won’t bring you back
Come to me in dreams again
Wings of angels tears of saints

Child of thunder in the dark child whose voice was like a lark
Child whose spirits lifted hearts child of many beauties

When the birds flock to the south
When the wind calls to the north
You are in the falling snow
You are beauty going forth
You are heat and you are light
Sun above the mountain’s peak
I would give the sun and moon
Once more just to hear you speak

Wings of angels tears of saints
Prayers and promises won’t bring you back
Come to me in dreams again
Wings of angels tears of saints

Prayers and Promises.

Judy Collins sings “Wings of Angels”

 May 2


Satyajit Ray (born May 2, 1921) – Indian filmmaker, science and detective fiction writer, poet – Feluda series short stories

Read the Wikipedia biography of Satyajit Ray

See Kevin Smith’s article about Ray’s Feluda series
(the Thrilling Detective website):


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