January 9


Katherine Mansfield's deathday - New Zealand's other Germaine Greer. 

She once wrote, and it is a very dangerous thing for a writer to hold out such open invitations to posterity:
"I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all."
Before he fell out with her, D.H.Lawrence admired her, even adored her, and that is recommendation enough for me. They shared the T.B. too of course. Her last words would last forever, if they were inscribed on her gravestone:
"I love the rain. I want the feeling of it on my face."
She also went further, much further; through the rain to the illusion of sunshine:

The Storm

I ran to the forest for shelter,
Breathless, half sobbing;
I put my arms around a tree,
[‘round’ in the original: the added syllable is my correction]
Pillowed my head against the rough bark.
"Protect me," I said. "I am a lost child."
But the tree showered silver drops on my face and hair.
A wind sprang up from the ends of the earth;
It lashed the forest together.
A huge green wave thundered and burst over my head.
[sloppy, that line]
I prayed, implored, "Please take care of me!"
But the wind pulled at my cloak and the rain beat upon me.
Little rivers tore up the ground and swamped the bushes.
A frenzy possessed the earth: I felt that the earth was drowning
[better without ‘that’]
In a bubbling cavern of space. I alone -
Smaller than the smallest fly - was alive and terrified.
Then for what reason I know not, I became triumphant.
"Well, kill me!" I cried and ran out into the open.
But the storm ceased: the sun spread his wings
And floated serene in the silver pool of the sky.
[dreadful cliché - the poem maimed
I put my hands over my face: I was blushing.                      but then redeemed
And the trees swung together and delicately laughed.    by ‘delicately laughed’]

Amber pages

Simone de Beauvoir, born today in 1908. Apparently "The Second Sex" was suggested by Sartre, and she thought it might be a good idea for a short article for a newspaper; until she started researching it, and it grew, not just into 2-volumes and over a thousand pages, but into the most important work in the feminist catalogue.

Joan Baez, born today in 1941

Marco Polo, traveller and memoirist, died today in 1324. I would much rather put this on his birth date, but no one knows when it was, not even the year for certain, though the scholarly consensus has decided 1254; but as to an actual month, let alone an actual day... And anyway, the point about Marco Polo isn't the life so much as the journey, and this date most definitely marks the end of the journey, so let's go with it.  China Daily has an interesting article (click here) about the publication of MP's will, apparently "proving" what scholars have long questioned (click here), that he ever went to China in his life ... but Marco Polo is to travel literature what Shakespeare is to English drama - the man who couldn't possibly have done what he is said to have done, even though it's right there before our eyes, unneeding of proof. The Everyman Library edition of Marco Polo's travels - click here - for example, contains extensive footnotes, longer than the book itself, which could win an international award for the most insulting, patronising, condescending and defamatory footnotes ever written, a continuous argument against absolutely everything Polo claims to have seen, based on the editor's certainty that anything written in anybody else's book on the subject can be taken as veracious, even if it was written centuries after Polo had been and seen.

1969: The Concorde jetliner made its first test flight (Bristol). Or maybe not. The BBC History page insists it was March 2; elsewhere I have found January 19... clearly this needs more research...

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