Saturday

Nov. 19, 2005

Some In Pieces

by Darnell Arnoult

SATURDAY, 19 NOVEMBER, 2005
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Poem:"Some In Pieces" by Darnel Arnoult from What Travels With Us © Louisiana State University Press. Reprinted with permission.

Some In Pieces

In World War Two
the oldest
of my uncles
picked up
dead bodies
dead weight
some in pieces
and threw them
onto the beds
of trucks.
His work spread
far as he could see.
When he came
home he poured
salted peanuts
into a Co-Cola
and prepared
for life
with folks
who could
never know
some things
as long
as they lived.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of American poet Sharon Olds, born in San Francisco (1942). She's the author of The Dead and the Living (1984), The Father (1992) and Blood, Tin, Straw (1999). She said: "Poets are like steam valves, where the ordinary feelings of ordinary people can escape and be shown."


It's the birthday of child psychologist and author Penelope Leach, born in London, England (1937).


It's the birthday of poet and novelist Alan Tate, born in Winchester, Kentucky (1899).


It was on this date in 1861 that Mrs. Julia Ward Howe sat down and wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The poem was first published in the February 1862 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, and later set to the popular melody "Glory Hallelujah."


It was on this day in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln got up in front of about 15,000 people seated at a new national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and delivered the Gettysburg Address. The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War. It was the furthest the Confederate soldiers had ever pushed into the North, but they'd been driven back.

The men killed in the battle had been buried hastily in shallow graves with haphazard wooden markers, but in the months since the battle, a man named David Wills oversaw the task of identifying and burying the dead properly. The ceremony was to dedicate the new cemetery. Wills invited the most popular poets of the day to write something in honor of the occasion. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier and William Cunnings Bryant all declined. So David Wills invited Edward Everett, a well-known speaker who was famous for his speeches about battlefields. It was almost as an afterthought that Wills decided to invite President Lincoln to the ceremony.

No one is sure exactly when Lincoln wrote his speech. Most people who knew him said that he spent a great deal of time writing every public statement he ever made, so he probably composed the first draft in Washington D.C. Witnesses said they saw him working on the speech on the train ride to Pennsylvania, and others said that they saw him working in his room the night before the event.

It was a foggy, cold morning on this day in 1863. Lincoln arrived about 10 a.m. Around noon the sun broke out as the crowds gathered on a hill overlooking the battlefield. A military band played, a local preacher offered a long prayer, and the headlining orator Edward Everett spoke for over two hours, describing the Battle of Gettysburg in great detail, and he brought the audience to tears more than once.

When Everett was finished, Lincoln got up, and pulled his speech from his coat pocket. It consisted of ten sentences, a total of 272 words. Lincoln did not mention any of the specifics of the war or any of the details of the battle of Gettysburg. He did not mention the North or the South. He did not mention slavery. Instead, he explained, in ordinary language, that our nation was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, and that we must continue to fight for that principle, in honor of those who have died fighting for it.

Unfortunately for Lincoln, the audience was distracted by a photographer setting up his camera, and by the time Lincoln had finished his speech and sat down the audience didn't even realize he had spoken. Lincoln was disappointed in his performance, but the next day Edward Everett told the President, "I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes." The speech was reprinted in newspapers around the country, and it went on to become one of the most famous speeches in American history.

It begins, "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

And ends, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."


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