May 10, 2005
Poem: "Grass" by Ruth L. Schwartz from dear good naked morning © Autumn House Press. Reprinted with permission.
Yesterday, and the day before that,
the cows ate grass.
Tomorrow, and the next, and every day after that,
the cows will eat grass.
They'll eat until they can't stand up,
and even then, collapsed upon the earth in their last hours,
if they can reach it with their mouths, they'll eat grass.
They'll eat until they've eaten it all, until there are only
a few stray blades
halfway buried under bouldersthen
they'll nudge aside the boulders
with their large and knowing lips,
and eat that grass, too.
Only the smallest calves, today,
the ones no bigger than dogs, are lying down.
They gaze out onto the landscape like dreamers:
the sky marbled with fatty clouds;
the cherry trees beginning to leaf;
the first few poppies, unfurling their cadmium banners;
the fences making some things possible, and others difficult;
the shadows falling from, and following, each thing;
and the world seems so strange, so common and wondrous
at once, that the calves ask the cows eating grass,
Is this all there is?
And the answer comes back from mouths full of grass:
This is all there is.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the theologian Karl Barth, born in Basel, Switzerland (1886) who said, "Conscience is the perfect interpreter of life."
It's the birthday of Fred Astaire, born Fred Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska (1899). He went off with his sister Adele, to dance in vaudeville. She left the act in 1932 after she had married. It was doubted by many that Fred Astaire could continue without her, but in 1933 he teamed up with Ginger Rogers in a movie called Flying Down to Rio.
It was on this day in 1940 that Winston Churchill took power as the prime minister of Great Britain. He was an English politician who had had a bumpy career. He had switched parties not once but twice. He started out conservative, became liberal, and then went conservative again.
At the start of World War I, he was one of the few to predict how enormous that war would be. He advocated an invasion of Turkey and the result was a disaster. There were hundreds of thousands of British casualties and nothing to show for it, and he had to resign his office in disgrace; whereupon, he joined the Army, went into battle, commanding a battalion in the trenches. He was the only politician of his stature to serve in the trenches in World War I.
Between the wars, he was alienated from politicians in both parties who felt that he was an extremist, a reactionary. In 1932, he made a speech about the growing danger of a second world war with Germany. Nobody took him seriously. He was considered paranoid and a warmonger.
But things changed when Hitler took over Czechoslovakia and Austria and then invaded Poland, Belgium, and France. In less than two years, almost all of Western Europe was either controlled by or allied with Nazi Germany. And then on May 10, 1940, Churchill became the prime minister. He gave his acceptance speech in which he said, "All I have to offer is blood, toil, tears, and sweat."
The situation for Great Britain was dire. The British Army was decimated in a retreat from Dunkirk. Hitler was so confident that he delayed invasion. He thought it would be a waste of resources. He expected British surrender, but Churchill set out to rally the British people by sheer force of will and his personality and his command of English.
Today he's perhaps more idolized in America than in Great Britainwhere he's seen as an important statesman but not perfecta man who did not support independence for India and who, in the 1930s, thought that Communism was more dangerous than Fascism. And many British felt that he turned Great Britain into a junior partner of the United States.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®