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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Archive for June, 2018

William Butler Yeats/Poet

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

 June 13, 2018, is the birthday of Irish poet William Butler Yeats , born in Sandymount, Ireland (1865), and considered one of the greatest poets in the history of the English language. Some of his most famous poems are “Easter, 1916,” “Sailing to Byzantium,” and “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1923.


Yeats was committed to writing about Ireland and national identity. He once said, “I should never go for the scenery of a poem to any country but my own, and I think I shall hold that conviction to the end.” He was a fervent Irish nationalist and even served six years in the Senate, the Dáil Éireann. About Ireland, Yeats said, “We are a nation of believers.”


As a child, he was homeschooled and then sent to art school to follow in the footsteps of his father, a famous portrait painter. One of his school reports said, “Perhaps better in Latin than in any other subject. Very poor in spelling.” Undeterred, he quit art school and devoted himself to poetry. His collections include In the Seven Woods(1903), Responsibilities (1904), and The Green Helmet and Other Poems (1910).


W.B. Yeats became quite famous in his lifetime. As a young poet, he went to visit fellow poet Paul Verlaine in Paris and later, poet Ezra Pound became his secretary for a time when they shared a cottage for several months in Sussex. Yeats cut a dashing, if unkempt figure about London at one time, with one friend remarking, “Yeats was striding to and fro at the back of the dress circle, a long black cloak drooping from his shoulders, a soft black sombrero on his head, voluminous black silk tie flowing from his collar, loose black trousers dragging untidily over his long, heavy feet.”


Yeats met the great, unrequited love of his life, Maud Gonne, in London. She was tall, beautiful, devoted to Irish nationalism, and didn’t return his ardor. He wrote several plays for her, like The Countess Kathleen (1892) and Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), in which Gonne played the starring role. Yeats proposed to her three times over several decades and each time she refused. The last time she rejected him, he proposed to her daughter, who said no, as well. When Yeats met Maud Gonne, he famously said, “The troubles of my life began.”


In the end, at 52, he married Georgie Hyde-Lees and had two children. They lived in a tower on the outermost edge of Ireland and practiced spiritualism and automatic writing. Yeats had many lovers over the years, but Georgie forgave him.



Garrison Keillor/Writers Almanac, June, 2017


Monday, June 18th, 2018

Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora on this date, June 13, in 1525. Their marriage was scandalous at that time, because Luther was a former monk, and his betrothed was a former nun. They met when Katharina — along with 11 of her fellow nuns — hid in a wagon to escape their convent; they ended up in Wittenberg, under Luther’s protection. Katharina was vivacious and intelligent, and soon had her share of suitors, but she declared that she would only marry Luther or his friend Nikolaus von Amsdorf. Many people — including Luther himself — were worried that it would reflect badly on the fledgling Protestant Reformation. In the end, Luther decided that there was “a battery of reason in favor of his proposal: his marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh and the devils to weep.”

His marriage to “dear Katie,” as he called her, was a happy one. They lived in the Black Cloister, the monastery where Luther had formerly served as a monk. They had six children, and Katharina ran the household while Luther taught and wrote. She controlled the family finances, grew most of the food, and brewed her own beer. She was an excellent cook, and the Luther dinner table became famous for its delicious food and stimulating conversation. Luther sought his wife’s advice on many matters, and she frequently dealt with publishers on his behalf, since he had no head for business.

Martin Luther died in 1546. Not long afterward, Katharina wrote to her sister: “I know that you take pity on me and my poor children. For who could not be deeply grieved and saddened over the loss of such a dear and precious man as my husband has been. He gave so much of himself in service not only to one town or to one country, but to the whole world. Yes, my sorrow is so deep that no words can express my heartbreak, and it is humanly impossible to understand what state of mind and spirit I am in … I can neither eat nor drink, not even sleep … God knows that when I think of having lost him, I can neither talk nor write in all my suffering.”


Garrison Keillor/Writers Almanac, June 2013


Anne Frank/Victim of Evil

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

Today, June 12, 2018, is the birthday of Anne Frank, (born in Frankfurt, Germany, 1929), who died at the age of 14 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany during the Holocaust. Frank, her family, and four other people hid for two years in an attic space above Frank’s father’s business warehouse. The space was called “The Secret Annex,”and they survived through the help of Otto Frank’s employees, who brought them food, newspapers, and sundries.

 The space was small and cramped, and the eight people had to follow strict routines about when to use the bathroom, when to go to bed, and even when they could talk, for fear of rousing the suspicion of the workers in the warehouse. The Secret Annex was entered through a revolving bookcase.

 We would probably not know of Anne Frank’s life, or certain details of what life was like for Jews during the Holocaust, if Anne had not left behind a little red and white checkered diary that she called “Kitty.” In it, she recorded details of her life before confinement: school, crushes, fights with sister Margot, but also the increasing harassment that Jews faced after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich. Jews could no longer ride public transportation. Jewish schoolchildren were forced to sit apart from non-Jewish children in classrooms. Anne Frank wrote, “My happy-go-lucky, carefree school days are over.”

 Anne’s father, Otto Frank, had devised a plan of escape, but before it could take place, Anne’s sister, Margot, along with thousands of other Jews in Amsterdam, was called to a labor camp in Germany. If she didn’t register and report, the entire family would be arrested. The Frank family packed suitcases and walked to The Secret Annex in the rain. They wore as many clothes as possible. They would spend 761 days in hiding before they were discovered and sent to the concentration camps.

 Otto Frank was the only survivor. No one knows who betrayed the Franks, but Otto’s helper, Miep Gies, found the diary in The Secret Annex and gave it to Otto Frank. It became a worldwide sensation when it was published in 1947 as Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl.

 Anne Frank would be 88 years old if she had lived. In her diary, she wrote: “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

 And she wrote, “Those who have courage and faith shall never perish in misery.”

Garrison Keillor’s/Writers Almanac, 2017

BenJonson/Great Playwright/Outrageous Rake

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

June 11, probably in 1572, was the birthday of the playwright Ben Jonson. His plays include Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone (1606), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). A contemporary, friend, and rival of Shakespeare’s, Jonson was a heavy drinker and a fighter, no “Gentle Will.”


Jonson’s father died before he was born, and his stepfather was a bricklayer, so after a good education, young Ben spent some time laying bricks and then went off and joined the army. The story goes that he ran to the front of the lines and challenged a random soldier to single combat, then killed him. He went back to London, where he got work as an actor. Apparently he wasn’t a very good actor, but he was a good playwright. In 1597, he co-wrote a play called The Isle of Dogs, which got him in trouble with the government—it was too subversive, and he was thrown in jail for “leude and mutynous behavior.”


He was let out after a few months, but a year later, he killed a fellow actor named Gabriel Spenscer in a duel. He was arrested and he should have been hanged, but he pulled out a legal defense called “benefit of clergy”—since he could read the Bible in Latin, he got to go in front of a more lenient court, which rarely sentenced well-educated men. Instead, he got another stint in jail, and was branded on his thumb to remind him that he had almost been executed.


In 1604, he co-wrote a play called Eastward Ho! that mocked Scotland—since James VI of Scotland had taken over the throne from Elizabeth, making fun of Scotland was not tolerated, and Jonson was once more thrown in jail and informed that his ears and nose would be cut off. This threat never materialized, and when he was released, he hosted a banquet with friends to celebrate yet another narrow escape.


Jonson’s plays were more classically inspired than Shakespeare’s, less dependent on bawdy jokes and flashy duels. Jonson made plenty of disparaging comments about Shakespeare. He complained that his fellow playwright had “small Latine, and less Greeke.” And Jonson was probably alluding to Shakespeare, who did have a tendency to rip off plots from other people, when he wrote:

Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robb’d, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own :
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours ;
He marks not whose ’twas first : and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool! as if half eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece?


Unlike Shakespeare, Jonson was known as a slow, meticulous writer. After Shakespeare’s death, Jonson wrote: “I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honor to Shakespeare that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, would he had blotted a thousand. […] I loved the man and do honor his memory on this side of idolatry, as much as any: he was indeed honest, and of an open and free nature; had an excellent phantasy, brave notions, and gentle expressions; wherein he flowed with that facility, that sometimes it was necessary he should be stopped.”


Ben Jonson was famous for his ability to drink—it is said that when he converted from the Catholic Church to the Anglican Church in 1610, he downed the entire chalice of wine during his first communion.


His bar of choice was the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside, where he was the ringleader of a group of literary men. There are stories about the great debates and battles of wit that Jonson and Shakespeare had over their pints at the Mermaid, surrounded by the likes John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Fletcher, Sir Francis Bacon, and Francis Beaumont—but this is probably not true. More likely it was Jonson and some younger literary disciples who were regular patrons.


After Jonson’s death, the playwright Jasper Mayne wrote an ode, “To the Memory of Ben Jonson,” and he wrote: “Such thy drought was, and so great thy thirst, / That all thy Playes were drawne at th’ Mermaid first.”


Garrison Keillor’s/Writers Almanac, June, 2017


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