Mar. 4, 2005
Poem: "Writing" by Howard Nemerov, from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. © University of Chicago Press. Reprinted with permission.
The cursive crawl, the squared-off characters
these by themselves delight, even without
a meaning, in a foreign language, in
Chinese, for instance, or when skaters curve
all day across the lake, scoring their white
records in ice. Being intelligible,
these winding ways with their audacities
and delicate hesitations, they become
miraculous, so intimately, out there
at the pen's point or brush's tip, do world
and spirit wed. The small bones of the wrist
balance against great skeletons of stars
exactly; the blind bat surveys his way
by echo alone. Still, the point of style
is character. The universe induces
a different tremor in every hand, from the
check-forger's to that of the Emperor
Hui Tsung, who called his own calligraphy
the 'Slender Gold.' A nervous man
writes nervously of a nervous world, and so on.
Miraculous. It is as though the world
were a great writing. Having said so much,
let us allow there is more to the world
than writing: continental faults are not
bare convoluted fissures in the brain.
Not only must the skaters soon go home;
also the hard inscription of their skates
is scored across the open water, which long
remembers nothing, neither wind nor wake.
Literary and Historical Notes:
Today is March 4, the original date for the inauguration of presidents in the United States. And so, on this day in 1865, Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. Lincoln easily won his re-election in 1864, and by the time of his inauguration the Civil War was nearly at an end.
The day of the inauguration, Pennsylvania Avenue was little more than mud and standing water, due to weeks of wet weather. Still, the turnout was unprecedented. Trains carrying spectators arrived to the sound of bands playing "The Battle Cry of Freedom." The inaugural ceremonies included a battalion of African-American troops in the escort party, accompanying Lincoln to his address. Lincoln took the executive oath on the East Portico, with the newly-completed Capitol dome in clear view. In his brief address, Lincoln talked about reconciliation between the Union and the ailing Confederacy.
The address, just four paragraphs and 26 lines, concludes: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
One of the spectators in the crowd was an actor named John Wilkes Booth. Six weeks later, on April 14, 1865, Booth shot and killed Abraham Lincoln.
It was on this day in 1837 that Chicago was incorporated as a city, with a population of 4,170.
It's the birthday of the English novelist Alan Sillitoe, born in Nottingham, England (1928). He wrote Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), about a young man working at a factory.
It's the birthday of the crime novelist James Ellroy, born Lee Earle Ellroy in Los Angeles (1948).
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