Poets’ and writers’ birthdays for today, Jan. 8, include John Gneisenau Neihardt, Karen Tei Yamashita, and Stephen Hawking. Today’s poem “While Loveliness Goes By,” which you’ll find below. Thanks for reading, and, if you enjoy Bidwell Hollow, please share us with others.
John Gneisenau Neihardt
And also born today was John Greenleaf Neihardt, in a one-room cabin near Sharpsburg, IL.
Neihardt grew up in Kansas and Nebraska. It was in Nebraska when, at age 11, he developed a severe fever. He hallucinated that he was flying over Earth’s surface. The vision inspired him to become a poet. Neihardt changed his middle name to Gneisenau to avoid confusion with poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
Neihardt graduated from Nebraska Normal College when he was 17. He published a book about Hindu philosophy in 1900 (“The Divine Enchantment”).
Also in 1900, a merchant who traded with American Indians near Bancroft, NE hired Neihardt. He published short stories he wrote based on this experience in “The Lonesome Trail” (1907).
The following year Neihardt rafted down the Missouri River from Montana to Iowa. He published a series of articles documenting this experience in Outing magazine. The articles were published as “The River and I” in 1910.
In the 1910s Neihardt began research for a series of epic poems he would write about the American West. This research brought him into contact with a Lakota Sioux healer named Nicholas Black Elk. Neihardt developed a relationship with Black Elk, who told Neihardt his life story.
That story published in 1939 as “Black Elk Speaks.” The book shares Black Elk’s life alongside the end of the Lakota’s ways in the late 19th century. In the book, Neihardt wrote, “Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.”
Karen Tei Yamashita
Today is the birthday of novelist and short story writer Karen Tei Yamashita. She was born in 1951 in Oakland, CA, the daughter of Japanese-American parents interned during World War II.
Yamashita is the author of books such as “Through the Arc of the Rain Forest” (1990) and “Tropic of Orange” (1997).
Yamashita researches before she begins writing a novel. “I think that intense and thorough research keeps fiction honest,” she said.
She began working on her novel “I Hotel” in 1997 when she became a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She would focus on teaching during the school year, and she would work on “I Hotel” in the summers.
“My publisher, Allan Kornblum, would check in with me from time to time, but we both had to be patient,” she said.
Released in 2010, “I Hotel,” received several recognitions. This includes an American Book Award and the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award. It was a National Book Award finalist.
Yamashita’s latest book is “Anime Wong.”
And today is the birthday of physicist and author Stephen Hawking.
Hawking has published several books, including 1988’s “A Brief History of Time.” The book covers the history and fate of the universe. Hawking wrote the book for non-scientific readers, but some were skeptical the book would have a wide audience.
“I contacted a literary agent and gave him a draft of the first chapter, explaining that I wanted it to be the sort of book that would sell in airport bookstores. He told me there was no chance of that,” Hawking wrote in 2013.
The book was a The New York Times Best Seller for 147 weeks. And it was a The Times of London Bestseller for a record-setting 237 weeks. “A Brief History of Time” has sold over 10 million copies and translated into more than 40 languages.
Francisco González Bocanegra
Born today in 1824 in San Luis Potosi, Mexico was Francisco González Bocanegra. He wrote the verses for the Mexican national anthem (Himno Nacional Mexicano).
The president of Mexico in 1853 held a contest to write a national anthem for Mexico. Bocanegra’s won. Another contest selected the musical score to which the poet’s lyrics would be set. Catalonian composer Jaime Nunó won that contest.
The anthem was first performed in 1854. It became the official national anthem of the United Mexican States in 1943.
Bocanegra’s and Nunó’s graves lie side-by-side in Mexico City.
Today is also the birthday of singer and songwriter David Bowie, born David Robert Jones in London in 1947.
Bowie’s remembered for his musical innovations and theatrical performances throughout a five-decades-long career. He told an interviewer in 1975, though, that his songwriting was the foundation to his success.
“The content has to stand,” Bowie said. “I mean, you can dress a show with a trillion dollars, or trillion pounds, worth of goodies, but if the show is not substantial, there will be no impact.”
Bowie wrote hundreds of songs, including “Heroes:”
“I, I remember
Standing by the wall
The guns shot above our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them forever and ever
Then we can be heroes just for one day”
Also born today, in 1909 in Kolkata, India, was Bengalese writer Ashapoorna Devi.
Devi’s family was traditional and didn’t allow women to receive an education. Devi learned language by listening to her brothers reading aloud.
Her early writings were for children, but she then transitioned to writing for adults. Her first published story for adults was 1937’s “The Husband’s Lover.” Over her lifetime, Devi published 242 novels and novelettes, 62 children’s books, and more than 3,000 short stories.
Devi received in 1976 the Government of India’s fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri. That same year she received the Indian literary prize, the Jnanpith Award. She received four universities in India awarded Devi honorary doctorate degrees.
While Loveliness Goes By
Sometimes when all the world seems gray and dun
And nothing beautiful, a voice will cry,
“Look out, look out! Angels are drawing nigh!”
Then my slow burdens leave me, one by one,
And swiftly does my heart arise and run
Even like a child, while loveliness goes by—
And common folk seem children of the sky,
And common things seem shapèd of the sun.
Oh, pitiful! that I who love them, must
So soon perceive their shining garments fade!
And slowly, slowly, from my eyes of trust
Their flaming banners sink into a shade!
While this earth’s sunshine seems the golden dust
Slow settling from that radiant cavalcade.
– Anna Hempstead Branch