Category Archives: Birthday
Jan Zwicky, poet, philosopher, essayist, musician, teacher (born 10 May 1955 in Calgary, AB). Winner of the Governor General’s Award and short-listed for the Griffin Poetry Prize, Jan Zwicky is among Canada’s most innovative writers and thinkers. Influenced by such foundational Western philosophers as Plato, Herakleitos, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zwicky has established a reputation as a thoughtful writer and editor. Along with fellow writers Robert Bringhurst, Dennis Lee, Tim Lilburn and Don McKay, she contributes to an ongoing conversation about poetry and philosophy, especially as they relate to ecological thinking.
Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell, England. His mother was an accomplished pianist and a devout evangelical Christian. His father, who worked as a bank clerk, was also an artist, scholar, antiquarian, and collector of books and pictures. His rare book collection of more than 6,000 volumes included works in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. Much of Browning’s education came from his well-read father. It is believed that he was already proficient at reading and writing by the age of five. A bright and anxious student, Browning learned Latin, Greek, and French by the time he was fourteen. From fourteen to sixteen he was educated at home, attended to by various tutors in music, drawing, dancing, and horsemanship. At the age of twelve he wrote a volume of Byronic verse entitled Incondita, which his parents attempted, unsuccessfully, to have published. In 1825, a cousin gave Browning a collection of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry; Browning was so taken with the book that he asked for the rest of Shelley’s works for his thirteenth birthday, and declared himself a vegetarian and an atheist in emulation of the poet. Despite this early passion, he apparently wrote no poems between the ages of thirteen and twenty. In 1828, Browning enrolled at the University of London, but he soon left, anxious to read and learn at his own pace. The random nature of his education later surfaced in his writing, leading to criticism of his poems’ obscurities.
(From victorianweb.org): Algernon Charles Swinburne was born April 5, 1837 in Grosvenor Place, London, but spent most of his boyhood on the Isle of Wight, where both his parents and grandparents had homes. With Shelley and Byron, he is one of the very few poets since the days of Raleigh and Sidney to come from the aristocracy: his father was an admiral and his maternal grandfather the third earl of Ashburnham. He was very close to his other grandfather, who was born and brought up in France and continued to think and dress like a French nobleman of the ancien régime (the days before the Revolution). He and the poet’s mother trained young Algernon in French and Italian.
In religion, the Swinburnes were true to their class, meaning that they were High Church Anglicans (see Church of England), and the poet had a Bible reader’s detailed knowledge of the scriptures and of standard interpretative methods, including typology, prophecy, and apocalyptics. His treatment of Christianity seems a characteristically idiosyncratic one — that is, although he delighted in opposing organized religion and savagely attacked the Roman Catholic Church for its political role in a divided Italy, he makes detailed use of biblical allusion, though often for blasphemous ends. Although Algernon turned to nihilism while at Oxford, he never became indifferent to religion, as “Hymn to Proserpine” (text of poem) and “Hertha” make clear.
(From poets.org): Robert Frost was born on March 26, 1874, in San Francisco, where his father, William Prescott Frost Jr., and his mother, Isabelle Moodie, had moved from Pennsylvania shortly after marrying. After the death of his father from tuberculosis when Frost was eleven years old, he moved with his mother and sister, Jeanie, who was two years younger, to Lawrence, Massachusetts. He became interested in reading and writing poetry during his high school years in Lawrence, enrolled at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, in 1892, and later at Harvard University in Boston, though he never earned a formal college degree.
An early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing the poetry of Robert Frost on May 25. Please bring your own choice of a poem by Frost, and if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.
From poets.org: Born in 1806 at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet of the Romantic Movement. The oldest of twelve children, Elizabeth was the first in her family born in England in over two hundred years. For centuries, the Barrett family, who were part Creole, had lived in Jamaica, where they owned sugar plantations and relied on slave labor. Elizabeth’s father, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, chose to raise his family in England, while his fortune grew in Jamaica. Educated at home, Elizabeth apparently had read passages from Paradise Lost and a number of Shakespearean plays, among other great works, before the age of ten. By her twelfth year, she had written her first “epic” poem, which consisted of four books of rhyming couplets. Two years later, Elizabeth developed a lung ailment that plagued her for the rest of her life. Doctors began treating her with morphine, which she would take until her death. While saddling a pony when she was fifteen, Elizabeth also suffered a spinal injury. Despite her ailments, her education continued to flourish. Throughout her teenage years, Elizabeth taught herself Hebrew so that she could read the Old Testament; her interests later turned to Greek studies. Accompanying her appetite for the classics was a passionate enthusiasm for her Christian faith. She became active in the Bible and Missionary Societies of her church.
I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy dead in silence like to death—
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.