DANIEL McCALL: I'm Daniel McCall. I live in Boston, Massachusetts.
I'm 81 years old. I'm a retired anthropologist. My father had a small
shoe store and when bankrupt when I was nine years old. My mother had
died when I was eight months old in the influenza epidemic in 1918,
and I was in an orphanage for a while. I ran away so many times they
wouldn't take me back, and I lived with my father in a hotel. It was
called a family hotel, but I was the only child that was in the hotel.
It was during that time, I think, that they had a teacher of English,
Mrs. Fraser, who required all the classmates to choose a poem and learn
it by heart.
The poem that I selected, which has lived with me ever since, is certainly
one that I learned by heart, because poems, I found, that really live
in your heart, they mean a lot to you. And the longer you live, I guess,
the more they mean. I joined the Coast Guard, which was a longer commitment
of time than being drafted into the army, but I thought it would be
more fun because I liked being on ships. I was still in the coast guard
when Pearl Harbor occurred, and then the Coast Guard automatically became
part of the Navy. And the first thing I knew I was on the coast of Asia
instead of the coast of North America. Well, there was a night in boot
camp when I was told to walk up and down a wharf. It was 12:00 to 4:00
A.M. winter night, very cold, holding this rifle on my shoulder. The
stock was cold, my hand was cold, and the wind seemed to be really biting.
I started reciting poetry to myself, and I started with poems that I
And I started with Shakespeare's 29th Sonnet. And sometimes I got
lost and had to reconstitute and start over again, see where I was missing
a line or something wasn't coming out in the right way. By the time
that I got through all of the poems that I was trying to remember, I
was being relieved -- and went back to bed. The poems helped me get
through a difficult night. This is the poem which I learned when I was
in the seventh grade. What it meant to me at that time was that feeling
of being... such misfortune that was my experience in the orphanage.
And the fact that the situation can be turned around so quickly, that
business of being thrown down into the depths and being able to come
up, and that seemed to me so hopeful.
by William Shakespeare
When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.