Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
by William Blake
I love to rise in a summer morn,
When the birds sing on every tree;
The distant huntsman winds his horn,
And the skylark sings with me:
Oh, what sweet company!
But to go to school in a summer morn, —
O it drives all joy away;
Under a cruel eye outworn,
The little ones spend the day
In sighing and dismay.
Ah then at times I drooping sit,
And spend many an anxious hour;
Nor in my book can I take delight,
Nor sit in learning’s bower,
Worn through with the dreary shower.
How can the bird that is born for joy
Sit in a cage and sing?
How can a child, when fears annoy,
But droop his tender wing,
And forget his youthful spring?
O father and mother, if buds are nipped,
And blossoms blown away;
And if the tender plants are stripped
Of their joy in the springing day,
By sorrow and care’s dismay, —
How shall the summer arise in joy,
Or the summer fruits appear?
Or how shall we gather what griefs destroy,
Or bless the mellowing year,
When the blasts of winter appear?
“The Schoolboy” by William Blake, from Songs of Experience, 1794. Public domain. (buy now)
The Grand Ole Opry began broadcasting from Nashville on this date in 1925. It was called the “WSM Barn Dance” at first. WSM was a new radio station that had been started in Nashville by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, who wanted to use the station to sell insurance; the call letters stood for “We Shield Millions,” which was the company’s motto. WSM had recently hired George D. Hay, a former Memphis reporter turned program director, and at 8 o’clock p.m. on this date, he introduced himself as a “Sober Old Judge” (he was 30) and launched the station’s first radio barn dance.
It’s the birthday of novelist Rita Mae Brown (books by this author), born in Hanover, Pennsylvania (1944). When she was in her late 20s, she wrote a novel called Rubyfruit Jungle (1973), the coming-of-age story of Molly Bolt and her lesbian experiences in high school and beyond. Brown sent the book to agents to try to interest them, but that didn’t work; one of them actually threw the manuscript at Brown, called her a pervert, and told her to get out of her office. So she sent it directly to every publisher she could think of, but no one was interested. Finally, she sent it to a tiny, newly formed feminist publisher, and they agreed to print a few thousand copies and pay Brown $1,000. Most big bookstores wouldn’t even carry books by such a small publisher, so Rubyfruit Jungle was sold by mail or from the backs of cars. The publisher didn’t put out a single ad, and the novel didn’t get a single review. But the book became a word-of-mouth hit and sold 70,000 copies in four years, at which point it was picked up by a major publisher. Rubyfruit Jungle has now sold more than a million copies.
Brown has published over 50 books since then, including Sudden Death (1984), Venus Envy (1994), Alma Mater (2002), The Sand Castle (2008), Tail Gait (2015), and Scarlet Fever (2019).
It’s the birthday of poet and artist William Blake (books by this author), born in London (1757). He was four years old when he had a vision that God was at his window. A few years later, he went for a walk and saw a tree filled with angels, their wings shining. He had other visions, too: he saw the prophet Ezekiel sitting under a tree, and angels walking with farmers making hay.
When Blake was 10 his parents sent him to drawing school, and at the age of 14 he was apprenticed to an engraver. After seven years, he went into business for himself, and a few years later he privately printed his first book, Poetical Sketches (1783). It was a total flop — it wasn’t even mentioned in the index of London’s Monthly Review, a list of every book published that month.
Not long after that, Blake’s beloved brother, Robert, died at the age of 24. Blake spent two sleepless weeks at his deathbed, and when he died, Blake claimed that he saw his brother’s spirit rise through the ceiling, clapping its hands with joy. From then on, Blake had regular conversations with his dead brother. A year later, Robert appeared to William in a vision and taught him a method called “illuminated printing,” which combined text and painting into one. Instead of etching into a copper plate, Blake did the opposite: he designed an image in an acid-resistant liquid, then etched away everything else with acid, leaving a relief image, and he applied color to both the raised and etched parts of the copper plate. Illuminated printing — or as it’s now known, relief etching — was a huge breakthrough in printing. Blake wrote: “First the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged: this I shall do by printing in the infernal method by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away and displaying the infinite which was hid.”
Blake used this technique for many of his great works, including Songs of Innocence (1789), Songs of Experience (1794), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), and The Book of Los (1795). Throughout his career, he continued to see visions — in addition to communing with the spirits of relatives and friends, he claimed to be visited by the spirits of many great historical figures, including Alexander the Great, Voltaire, Socrates, Milton, and Mohammed. He talked with them and drew their portraits. He was also visited by angels and once by the ghost of a flea, whose portrait he drew. He wrote: “I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward Creation […] ‘What,’ it will be Question’d, ‘When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?’ O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host.”
Blake died at the age of 69. He spent the day of his death working on a series of engravings of Dante’s Divine Comedy. That evening, he drew a portrait of his wife, and then told her it was his time. A friend of Blake’s who was there at his deathbed wrote: “He died on Sunday night at 6 o’clock in a most glorious manner. […] Just before he died, His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten’d and He burst out into Singing of the things he saw in Heaven.”
At the time of his death, Blake was an obscure figure, best remembered for his engravings of other peoples’ work, or maybe his one famous poem, “The Tyger.” Among those who knew more about his life’s work, the consensus was that Blake was insane. Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which he had engraved and painted by hand, had sold fewer than 20 copies in 30 years. It wasn’t until more than 30 years after his death that a husband-and-wife team, Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, published a two-volume biography of Blake that firmly established him as a brilliant and important artist.
He said, “Without minute neatness of execution, the sublime cannot exist! Grandeur of ideas is founded on precision of ideas.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®