Thursday

Aug. 26, 2004

THURSDAY, 26 AUGUST, 2004
Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "II," by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir. © Counterpoint. Reprinted with permission.

"II"

When my father was an old man,
past eighty years, we sat together
on the porch in silence
in the dark. Finally he said,
"Well, I have had a wonderful life,"
adding after a long pause,
"and I have had nothing
to do with it!" We were silent
for a while again. And then I asked,
"Well, do you believe in the
'informed decision'?" He thought
some more, and at last said
out of the darkness: "Naw!"
He was right, for when we choose
the way by which our only life
is lived, we choose and do not know
what we have chosen, for this
is the heart's choice, not the mind's;
to be true to the heart's one choice
is the long labor of the mind.
He chose, imperfectly as we must,
the rule of love, and learned
through years of light what darkly
he had chosen: his life, his place,
our place, our lives. And now comes
one he chose, but will not see:
Emily Rose, born May 2, 1993.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1968 that the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago. In the wake of Robert Kennedy's murder, the Democratic establishment chose Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey as their candidate, but the anti-war faction of the party wanted Senator Eugene McCarthy. Thousands of college students and anti-war activists showed up at the convention on this day to protest the choice of Humphrey, and the Democratic Party's support of the war in Vietnam.

Abbie Hoffman, leader of the "Yippies," announced that they planned to lace the city's water supply with hallucinogenic drugs, release animals from the zoo, and seduce the wives and daughters of delegates. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called in 7,500 U.S. Army troops and 6,000 National Guardsmen to keep the peace.

For the first two days of the convention, protesters shouted insults at the police and threw rocks and other objects. On the evening of the third day, the police responded by charging toward Grant Park where thousands of protestors were gathered, attacking everyone in their path with billy clubs and tear gas.

At that very moment, the delegates were beginning their roll call to choose Humphrey as their nominee. Connecticut was about to be called when news footage of the riot outside appeared on the monitors in the convention hall. In his notebook that night, the reporter and historian Theodore White wrote, "The Democrats are finished." Hubert Humphrey lost the election to Richard Nixon that year. Before 1968, the Democrats had won seven of the nine presidential elections since 1932. In the nine presidential elections since 1968, Democrats have won only three.


It was one this day in 1920 that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing American women the right to vote, was declared in effect. After the Congress passed the amendment, it had to be ratified by a majority of state legislatures. The state that tipped the balance was Tennessee and the man who cast the deciding vote was the twenty-four year old representative Harry Burn, the youngest man in the state legislature that year. Before the vote, he happened to read his mail, and one of the letters he received was from his mother. It said, "I have been watching to see how you stood but have noticed nothing yet .... Don't forget to be a good boy and...vote for suffrage."

At the house, supporters of suffrage sat in the balcony wearing yellow roses. On the house floor, those who opposed suffrage wore red roses. When Burn entered the room, he wore a red rose and the anti-suffrage camp thought they had his vote. But when he was called on to say aye or nay for the ratification of the 19th amendment, he said, "Aye," and the amendment was ratified by a vote of 49 to 47. A witness there that day said, "The women took off their yellow roses and flung them over the balcony, and yellow roses just rained down."


It's the birthday of novelist Julio Cortazar, born in Brussels, Belgium to Argentine parents (1914). He moved to France as a young man and began publishing dream-like, fantastic stories, collected in books such as Blow Up and Other Stories (1956). Critics consider his masterpiece to be the novel Hopscotch (1963), which can be read in the normal manner, following chapters one through fifty-six, or it can be read by hopscotching between the first fifty-six chapters and 100 additional chapters in an order prescribed by the author.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »