Today is the birthday of Robert M. Pirsig who received 121 rejections for his novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig persevered. The book he wrote in 1968 about a motorcycle trip that he and his son took from Minnesota to San Francisco was finally published in 1974. Not only was the book published, it achieved cult status, selling more than five million copies.
Pirsig is not the only author to experience rejection. L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, received so many rejection letters that he kept a journal called a “Record of Failure.” J.K. Rowling received 14 rejections for her first Harry Potter book, and Stephen King received more than 30 rejections for his first novel Carrie. In fact, King almost gave up on Carrie. Discouraged with his lack of progress, he threw the manuscript in the garbage. His wife retrieved it, however, and told him to keep writing. Sometimes even the best writers need the encouragement of others.
Today’s Challenge: The Write Stuff Writing is hard work, and all writers must persevere through rejection before getting their writing published. What’s your favorite book? What makes it such a special book? Write an acceptance letter to the author explaining why you love it so much and thanking the author for all of his/her hard work. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing. – Stephen King
Today is the anniversary of a short letter that became the opening salvo in a chain of events that changed television history. The letter, dated August 31, 1988, was sent to NBC President Brandon Tartikoff by George Shapiro, agent for comedian Jerry Seinfeld. This brief letter of recommendation led to a meeting between Seinfeld and NBC executives, and an eventual pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles. That pilot then became one of television’s most successful sitcoms Seinfeld running from 1990 to 1998.
With the popularity and longevity of Seinfeld, you might think success was assured for Jerry Seinfeld, but few people know that he was dropped from an earlier sitcom Benson in 1980 after appearing in three episodes (1).
Looking back at the text of the Shapiro’s letter — only three sentences long — it’s hard to believe it was the spark that set of a powder keg of comedy that dominated American TV ratings from nearly ten years:
Call me a crazy guy, but I feel that Jerry Seinfeld will soon be doing a series on NBC, and I thought you’d like to see this article from the current issue of People Magazine.
Jerry will be appearing in concert in New York City at Town Hall on Saturday, September 10. If any of you will be in New York at that time I’ll be happy to arrange tickets for you and your guests.
When the show ended in 1998, it was still at the top of the ratings, and Jerry Seinfeld made it into The Guinness Book of World Records under the category “Most Money Refused” when he turned down an offer of $5 million dollars per episode to continue the show. In addition to ratings success, the sitcom also made an impact on American vernacular with catchphrases such as “Yada, Yada, Yada.”
Seinfeld’s Agent George Shapiro, who later became one of the show’s executive producers, had the gift for writing a short but strong letter of recommendation for his client (2).
Unlike an email, a short letter is likely to get the attention of your audience. If you want something done or you want an answer to a question, a short letter is a great way to guarantee a response. However, unlike the sitcom Seinfeld you can’t write a letter about nothing; you need a specific subject and purpose for your letter. Below are four important guidelines for a successful letter.
The Four S’s of Business Letters:
Keep it Short
Cut needless words, needless information, stale phrases, and redundant statements.
Keep it Simple
Use familiar words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep it simple, and use a conversational style.
Keep it Strong
Answer the reader’s question in the first paragraph, and explain why you’re writing. Use concrete words and examples, and stick to the subject.
Keep it Sincere
Answer promptly, be friendly in tone, and try to write as if you were talking to your reader (3).
Today’s Challenge: Short, Simple, Strong, and Sincere Snail Mail What is something that you would recommend right now, something that is overlooked or underappreciated? Just as George Shapiro wrote a letter of recommendation for Jerry Seinfeld, your job is to write a short letter of recommendation. Your letter, however, should not recommend a person, rather it should recommend an object or an experience. This idea comes from a weekly feature of The New York Times Magazine called “Letter of Recommendation,” where various writers recommend an object or experience that has been overlooked or underappreciated. Past topics featured have been: egg shakers, summer Fridays, The Oxford English Dictionary, Skiing, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and alternative search engines.
Brainstorm a list of ideas. Then, select the topic you feel most passionately about. Your purpose is to share your passion with a general audience, telling and showing them why your object or experience is worth holding in higher esteem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day:The second button literally makes or breaks the shirt. Look at it. It’s too high. It’s in no-man’s land. You look like you live with your mother. –First line from the first episode of Seinfeld and the last line from the last episode. In both cases Jerry is speaking to George.
Today is the anniversary of the The Late Show with David Letterman which premiered on CBS on August 30, 1993 and ended on May 20, 2015. Letterman had previously spent eleven years as the host of Late Night with David Letterman, but after he was passed over as the host of the The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired, he signed a multi-million dollar deal to move to CBS. This put him in direct competition with Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny on The Tonight Show.
Many aspects of Letterman’s show followed the basic pattern of the late night talk show genre established and perfected by Johnny Carson. Letterman added a few new wrinkles of his own that became staples of his show and focus points for his fans.
One of Letterman’s trademarks was “found comedy”: people, places, and things found on the streets of the city that become the subject of Letterman’s ironic wit. These consist of actual items found in the newspaper, viewer mail, “stupid pet and human tricks” performed on the show, esoteric videos, or -person-on-the-street interviews (1).
Letterman’s best known feature is one that is originally “found” in the Old Testament, a list of ten — sometimes called a “decalogue.” This list of ten is best known as The Ten Commandments. The Book of Exodus records Moses bringing the commandments, which are carved on two stone tablets, down from Mount Sinai and delivering them to the people of Israel.
Of course Letterman’s Top Ten lists are meant not to deliver the law but to deliver laughs. Based on a topic from current events, each list counts down ten hilariously warped responses. The very first list, for example, featured TOP TEN WORDS THAT RHYME WITH “PEAS”:
While this was probably not the funniest top ten list, it is interesting to note that the Top Ten began on a poetic note.
Today’s Challenge: TOP TEN TOP TENS What would be the topic of your Top Ten list? Below are some of the list topics from David Letterman’s first book of Top Ten Lists. Select one of the topics, or create your own topic. Then, complete your list. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Top Ten Ways Life Would Be Better If Dogs Ran The World
Top Ten Ways To Pronounce “Bologna”
Top Ten Unsafe Toys for Christmas
Top Ten Prom Themes
Top Ten Questions Science Cannot Answer
Top Ten Things We As Americans Can Be Proud Of
Top Ten Interview Questions Asked Miss America Contestants
Top Ten Reasons To Vote
Top Ten Reasons Why TV Is Better Than Books
Top Ten Rejected Provisions of The U.S. Constitution
Quotation of The Day: Based on what you know about him in history books, what do you think Abraham Lincoln would be doing if he were alive today? 1) Writing his memoirs of the Civil War. 2) Advising the President. 3) Desperately clawing at the inside of his coffin. -David Letterman
Today marks the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburn as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.
The film is an off-shoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.
In addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Prize Winning Bees
Below are eight of winning word for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005:
chiaroscurist: 1998 – a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color
logorrhea: 1999 – pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking
demarche: 2000 – a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs
succedaneum: 2001 – (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another
prospicience: 2002 – prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.
pococurante: 2003 – Indifferent; apathetic
autochthonous: 2004 – of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed
appoggiatura: 2005 – grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size. (1, 2)
Today’s Challenge: To Bee or Not to Bee Should schools still hold spelling bees? What are the arguments for holding bees and for eliminating them? Imagine that an elementary school in your city or region is considering eliminating the annual elementary school spelling bee; make your argument either against or in support of this action. In the course of your argument address the relative importance or unimportance of spelling in the education of young people today. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day:Spelling Bees are useless and unnecessary competitions. Before Microsoft Word and Google, Spelling Bees had value, but now they are all superflewus. -Jarod Kintz
Today is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his unforgettable I Have a Dream speech to the crowd of roughly 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.
Early in his speech King invokes Lincoln and the unfulfilled promise of the Emancipation Proclamation:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free (2).
King went on to cite two other vital American documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Using the metaphor of a bad check, King argued that the United States would not be a truly free nation until it fulfilled these promissory notes for all of its citizens, ending segregation, “withering injustice,” and the persecution of black Americans.
An ordained Baptist minister and a doctor of theology, King knew how to craft a sermon and how to deliver a speech. His choice of nonviolent protest meant that his words and his rhetoric would determine the success or failure of his civil rights mission. King was up to the task. There is probably no more telling example of the power of words to persuade, motivate, and change the course of history than the speech King delivered on August 28, 1963.
Rhetoric is the use of language to persuade. Aristotle defined it as “the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.” Martin Luther King, Jr. used many of these “means of persuasion” (also known as rhetorical devices) to persuade his audience. He used metaphor: beacon of hope and manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. He used alliteration:dark and desolate, sweltering summer, and Jews and Gentiles. He used antithesis: will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
But more than any other device, King used repetition and anaphora, the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of a phrase or clause.
Certain words echo throughout his speech. Unlike redundancy, this repetition is intentional. These words ring like abell, repeatedly reminding the listener of key themes. In the I Have a Dream speech the words justice and dream both ring out eleven times. But one word is repeated far more than any other; the word freedom tolls 20 times. In King’s dream there is no crack in the Liberty Bell; instead, it rings out loudly and clearly, a triumphant declaration that America has finally lived up to its potential.
Anaphora comes from the Greek meaning “I repeat.” It’s the kind of repetition at the beginning of a line or a sentence that you see in the Psalms or in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
(Matthew 3:3-6 King James Version)
King uses anaphora for six different phrases that echo throughout his speech:
One hundred years later . . .
We refuse to believe . . .
Now is the time . . .
With this faith . . .
I have a dream . . .
Let freedom ring . . .
King also chose one of these examples of anaphora as the title of his speech. The repeated clause I have a dream comes at the climactic moment in the speech which is probably why it is the most frequently quoted part:
I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together(1).
Today’s Challenge: What is something that you think is underrated? What makes this topic so underrated, and why should people hold the topic in higher esteem? Certainly the purpose of Martin Luther King’s speech was to help the nation to not overlook the importance of civil rights for black Americans. His speech succeeded in changing the course of the movement, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Brainstorm some topics that you think are underrated? Try for a variety of topics, some on serious topics like civil rights and others on not so serious topics. Select the one topic you feel is most underrated and construct an argument where you explain why the topic should be held in higher esteem. In addition to specific evidence and commentary, use anaphora to make your case. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Walking is underrated. It benefits the body, the mind, and the pocketbook. If everyone in the U.S. were to walk briskly for just thirty minutes per day, we would cut the incidences of chronic diseases dramatically. Walking reduces the risk of heart disease, the risk of diabetes, the risk of arthritis, and the risk of cancer. It’s also good for the mind since studies show that walking reduces the likelihood of clinical depression. Smart seniors know the psychological value of staying active, breathing fresh air, and saving their hard-earned dollars by paying less for gas. Instead of venerating our motor vehicle obsessed society, we should celebrate citizens who stroll along the sidewalks of suburbia. More walkers mean less traffic, less pollution, and less wasted gas money. With so many potential positives, no one should view walking as a pain anymore.
Quotation of the Day:Have no unreasonable fear of repetition. . . . The story is told of a feature writer who was doing a piece on the United Fruit Company. He spoke of bananas once; he spoke of bananas twice; he spoke of bananas yet a third time, and now he was desperate. “The world’s leading shippers of the elongated yellow fruit,” he wrote. A fourth banana would have been better. -James J. Kilpatrick
On this date in 1955, the first edition of the Guinness Book of World Records was published in the United Kingdom.
The idea for the book began on November 10, 1951 when Sir Hugh Beaver, Chairman of the Guinness Brewery, was bird hunting in Ireland. After missing a shot at a golden plover, Beaver wondered if the plover was the fastest game bird in Europe. Sir Hugh was unable to get his answer, however, because he could not find a reference book that answered his question.
In 1954 Sir Hugh commissioned twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter to make his idea a reality. Today the Guinness World Records reference book is published annually in 20 different languages in over 100 countries. In fact, the book holds a world record of its own, being the best-selling copyrighted book of all time (1).
A Superlative Achievement
The Guinness Book of World Records could not have been written without superlative adjectives. When using adjectives to make comparisons, think of three forms: positive adjectives, comparative adjectives, and superlative adjectives.
Positive: I am tall.
Comparative: Sam is taller than I am.
Superlative: Bill is the tallest one in the class.
As you can see by the examples above, the superlative form is the highest degree of comparison, as in tallest, greatest, fastest, richest, or highest.
When an adjective is three syllables or more, add the word more to the comparative form and the word most to the superlative form.
Comparative: more beautiful or more memorable
Superlative: most beautiful or most memorable
Today’s Challenge: Speaking in Superlatives Write a review of something, some place, or someone you consider to be the worthy of superlatives. Explain what makes your topic the greatest. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day:It’s very important that people know that I really enjoy everything that has happened to me. And I tell my kids… you’re not going to be the tallest, fastest, prettiest, the best track runner, but you can be the nicest human being that someone has ever met in their life. And I just want to leave that legacy that being nice is a true treasure. –George Foreman
On this date in 1873, the first public school kindergarten in the United States was established by the St. Louis, Missouri board of education. The word kindergarten can be traced back to Germany, where Friedrick Froebel opened a preschool in 1840. Froebel invented the term Kinder-Garten (‘children’s garden’) to describe the experience of cultivating young minds through creativity and play(1).
Some say that we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten, but there is certainly one lesson that is vital to every kindergartner. In fact, instead of kindergartner we might call these children abecedarians. An abecedarian is a ‘student of the alphabet.’ The word comes from the letters A B C D.
After we have mastered the ABCs and learned to read, we take the alphabet for granted. What we don’t realize, however, is how fundamental it is to our literacy. We also sometimes forget that the alphabet, reading, and writing are all human inventions.
We don’t know who the inventor was, but we do know that around 2000 BC the idea of using letters instead of pictures to represent sounds and words began to take root. As a result, communication in writing became much more efficient and easier to learn. Instead of learning hundreds of symbols, the student now need only learn less than thirty letters. Today kindergartners, or abecedarians, who learn the 26 letters of the alphabet have a foundation to begin mastering the language for reading and writing. The word alphabet is from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha and Beta. The Greeks didn’t invent the alphabet, but they did perfect it; one of their most important adaptations was the addition of vowels.
You’ve probably mastered the alphabet by now, but there are other ways of returning to your abecedarian roots. Below is a list of 26 vocabulary words spanning all 26 letters of the alphabet. How many do you know? How many familiar roots do you recognize? Pick up a good dictionary and look up any unfamiliar words.
Today’s Challenge: Advanced Abecedarian Can you generate a list 26 challenging and interesting words, one for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet? Create your own unique abecedarian collection of words. Use a dictionary as a resource. Share your list with others, and be prepared to define the words on the list and explain what you find interesting about each one. (Common Core Language 3)
Quotation of the Day:Of all the achievements of the human mind, the birth of the alphabet is the most momentous. -Frederic Goudy
1 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
On this date in A.D. 79, Pliny the Elder died, a casualty of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Based on his thirty-seven volume work called Natural History, Pliny is known as the father of the encyclopedia .
Born in Italy in A.D. 23, Pliny was educated in Rome and served as a commander in the Roman army. He is best known, however, for his prodigious efforts to catalog the knowledge of his age in his Natural History. Using a plain, non-dogmatic style, Pliny covered cosmology, astronomy, zoology, botany, agriculture, medicine, and minerals. Not only was the comprehensive coverage of his multi-volume work unprecedented, but also his citation of over 100 sources set the standard for the modern encyclopedia. His work truly lived up the meaning of the word encyclopedia, which means an “all-around education.” The root cyclo is from the Greek for “circle” and paideia is from the Greek for “education.”
On the day of his death in 79 A.D., Pliny was serving as a fleet commander in the Bay of Naples. This was the same day that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pliny might have survived; however, he went ashore to assist citizens in need and was overcome by the toxic fumes from Vesuvius’ eruption (1).
Today we experience an encyclopedia format that has evolved from book form, to compact disk form, to online form. Whatever the form, however, it still is a format that attempts to encircle all that is know from A to Z. One fascinating adaptation made to the encyclopedia was published in 2005 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal in her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. Departing from the traditional objective tone of general knowledge, Rosenthal adapted the encyclopedia template to reflect subjectively on the topics that have made up her life so far. Part memoir, part autobiography, Rosenthal’s book presents her humorous, wry insights on an array of topics. Here’s a small sample of some of the topics covering the letters A to I:
Anxious, things that make me
The topics Rosenthal covers are diverse. Some are abstract and others are concrete, but each of her insights, though personal, seem to touch on something universal. For example, Rosenthal shares her personal insight on the topic “Palindrome”: “I am overly enamored with the palindrome: Won Ton, Not Now.”
On “Pie” she says, “There are few gestures kinder than a friend baking you a pie” (2).
Today’s Challenge: Encycloautobiography What would be the topics from A to Z that you would include in the encyclopedia of your life? Brainstorm a list of at least 26 topics; use a dictionary if you get stuck for ideas. Then, take one of your topics and write at least 6 sentences about it, providing personal insights and/or personal experience to bring the topic alive and to help the reader see it in a new way. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day:My brother, who grew up with three sisters, was I won’t say how many years old when he finally realized that he did not have to wrap the towel around his chest when he came out of the shower. -Amy Rosenthal
Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one line from the article lives on as a famous quote: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain’s side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: “A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it” (1).
Weather or not Twain said it (pun intended), there is no doubt that weather has rained down on the English lexicon. Many of our everyday idioms are weather related, and some of our common words have meteorological origins:
Astonish: Being struck by thunder would certainly be an astonishing experience. This word comes to English via the French estoner which in turn was derived from Latin ex = out + tonare = to thunder. Thus the literal translation of astonish is thunderstruck.
Window: This word comes from the Norse vindauge which comes from vindr = wind + auga = eye. Thus a window is the “wind’s eye.”
Lunatic: For centuries people have considered the effects of the moon on the weather and the varying moods of earthlings. Because the moon does affect ocean tides, it does have an indirect impact on the weather. There is less evidence, however, to prove the moon’s relationship to the human psyche. Nevertheless the word lunatic is derived from Luna the moon goddess, who in myth would sometimes toy with the sanity of mortals.
Here are a few example of weather idioms, where weather is used as a metaphor for some aspect of human experience:
A port in storm
Cloud of suspicion
Head in the clouds
Shoot the breeze
A snow job
Steal someone’s thunder
Tempest in a teapot
Under the weather
Forecast Calls for Neologisms The nouns below probably do not look familiar. They are all neologisms, new words that have appeared in print but that are not yet in the dictionary. See if you can match up the words with their definitions below. For more details on each word visit Word Spy, a site devoted to neologisms.
Earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change.
A person whose vacation consists of tracking down and observing tornadoes, hurricanes, and other severe weather phenomena.
A massive and powerful storm that develops quickly and without warning.
One or more mobile homes or trailers, especially when located in or near a tornado zone.
A massive lightning flash that extends from the top of a thundercloud up to the ionosphere.
Electrical storms generated when the solar wind emitted by the sun interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field.
A large chunk of ice that forms in the atmosphere and falls to the ground.
The study of past earthquakes, volcanoes, and other geological events that combines the analysis of both physical evidence and the myths and legends related to the events.
Today’s Challenge: “Over the Rainbow” What are some songs that talk about weather either literally or figuratively? What would you argue is the single best weather-related song? Brainstorm a list of songs that deal with weather, and select your favorite. Make your argument by explaining what makes the song great and by explaining how the lyrics reflect the weather, either literally or figuratively. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
For example, in the Beatles song “Good Day Sunshine” the sunny weather parallels the sunny disposition of the singer who is happily in love:
Good day sunshine, good day sunshine, good day sunshine
I need to laugh and when the sun is out
I’ve got something I can laugh about
I feel good in a special way
I’m in love and it’s a sunny day
Quotation of the Day: Weather forecast for tonight: dark. -George Carlin
On this day in 1849, poet, critic, and editor William Ernest Hendley was born. Suffering from tuberculosis since he was 12, Henley was frequently hospitalized. In 1875 his leg was amputated due to complications from the disease. That same year as he recovered from his surgery, he wrote his best known poem Invictus (Latin for “unconquerable”) (1).
The poem’s brilliance revolves around its expression of the indomitable human spirit. Also, the poem’s generalized statements of human anguish –“bludgeonings of chance,” “fell clutch of circumstance” — make it applicable to all manner of human struggles.
One example of the poem’s influence comes from the life of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). While imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years, Mandela frequently recited the poem to buoy the spirits of his fellow prisoners.
Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find, me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.
A short poem like Invictus is perfect for memorization. As Mandela demonstrated, it is the kind of poem that can lift your spirits or the spirits of your compatriots when courage is needed to face what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
In his essay “Why We Should Memorize,” Novelist and poet Brad Leithauer talks about a bygone era (from 1875 to 1950) when the memorization and recitation of poetry was a staple of the curriculums of both Britain and the United States:
The rationales for verse recitation were many and sometimes mutually contradictory: to foster a lifelong love of literature; to preserve the finest accomplishments in the language down the generations; to boost self-confidence through a mastery of elocution; to help purge the idioms and accents of lower-class speech; to strengthen the brain through exercise; and so forth.
Leithaurer hopes for a revival of memorization, a process where students literally learn poems “by heart”:
The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. [N.Y.U Professor Catherine] Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.” (2)
Today’s Challenge: I Am the Master of the Poem What are the keys to effective memorization and recitation of poetry? What process would you use to learn a poem by heart? Begin the process of memorizing Invictus. Read and reread the poem. Read it aloud. Write the poem down. Break the poem down into smaller parts. Then, memorize it line by line and stanza by stanza. Decide what key words you want to emphasize and experiment with reciting it using different tones. Finally, use the words of the poem to inspire your goal of memorizing the poem. Don’t give up!
Quotation of the Day:Sure I am this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us. -Winston Churchill