The most significant events in the history of books on the 11th of December
1918: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is born. This Russian novelist wrote a number of important works of fiction which reflect life in the Soviet Union, including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962), Cancer Ward (1968), August 1914 (1971), and The Gulag Archipelago (1973). He was allowed to publish only one of his novels, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in the Soviet Union, with the rest of his novels being published elsewhere. Solzhenitsyn was eventually expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974.
1941: John Gillespie Magee dies. This British-American poet is best known for his sonnet ‘High Flight (An Airman’s Ecstasy)’, which was quoted by Ronald Reagan following the Challenger shuttle disaster of 1986. Magee as a WWII pilot and was just 19 years old when he died in a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire on December 11 1941. As a poet, Magee was influenced by another war poet, Rupert Brooke, who had won the same poetry prize at Rugby School some thirty years before Magee won it. Magee also wrote a ‘Sonnet to Rupert Brooke’:
We laid him in a cool and shadowed grove
One evening in the dreamy scent of thyme
Where leaves were green, and whispered high above –
A grave as humble as it was sublime:
There, dreaming in the fading deeps of light –
The hands that thrilled to touch a woman’s hair:
Brown eyes, that loved the Day, and looked on Night,
A soul that found at last its answered Prayer …
There daylight, as a dust, slips through the trees,
And drifting, gilds the fern around his grave –
Where even now, perhaps, the evening breeze
Steals shyly past the tomb of him who gave
New sight to blinded eyes; who sometimes wept –
A short time dearly loved; and after, – slept.
You can read his more famous poem ‘High Flight’ here.
Image: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (author: Verhoeff, Bert / Anefo, 1974), via Wikimedia Commons.