Literary Daybook, May 3

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
May 3, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)
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Today in fiction

On May 3, Palamon escapes from prison.
-- "Canterbury Tales (The Knight's Tale)" (1386)
by Geoffrey Chaucer

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1810, 22-year-old Lord Byron swam the Hellespont, in emulation of Leander's legendary swims to visit his beloved Hero. Byron had not yet become famous for his poetry or his profligacy, and "Written After Swimming From Sestos to Abydos" shows him capable of poking fun at not only Romanticism but himself:

If, in the month of dark December,
Leander, who was nightly wont
(What maid will not the tale remember?)
To cross thy stream, broad Hellespont!


If, when the wintry tempest roared,
He sped to Hero, nothing I loath,
And thus of old thy current poured,
Fair Venus! how I pity both!

For me, degenerate modern wretch,
Though in the genial month of May,
My dripping limbs I faintly stretch,
And think I've done a feat today.

But since he crossed the rapid tide,
According to the doubtful story,
To woo and Lord knows what beside,
And swam for Love, as I for Glory;


'Twere hard to say who fared the best;
Sad mortals thus the gods still plague you!
He lost his labour, I my jest;
For he was drowned, and I've the ague.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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