Jan. 15, 2007

Nothing is Lost

by Noel Coward

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Poem: "Nothing is Lost" by Noel Coward, from Collected Verse, edited by Graham Payn & Martin Tickner © Graywolf Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Nothing is Lost

Deep in our sub-conscious, we are told
Lie all our memories, lie all the notes
Of all the music we have ever heard
And all the phrases those we loved have spoken,
Sorrows and losses time has since consoled,
Family jokes, out-moded anecdotes
Each sentimental souvenir and token
Everything seen, experienced, each word
Addressed to us in infancy, before
Before we could even know or understand
The implications of our wonderland.
There they all are, the legendary lies
The birthday treats, the sights, the sounds, the tears
Forgotten debris of forgotten years
Waiting to be recalled, waiting to rise
Before our world dissolves before our eyes
Waiting for some small, intimate reminder,
A word, a tune, a known familiar scent
An echo from the past when, innocent
We looked upon the present with delight
And doubted not the future would be kinder
And never knew the loneliness of night.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1831 that Victor Hugo (books by this author) finished his novel Notre-Dame de Paris, known to us as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In this epic Gothic novel, Quasimodo, a grotesque, hunchbacked bell ringer, falls in love with a gypsy street dancer named Esmeralda. While the novel was being written, Hugo was asked to compose a poem in honor of Louis-Philippe, France's first constitutional king, who had been brought to power by the July Revolution. Because of the distraction, Victor Hugo had to keep asking his publishers for deadline extensions for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Once he finally sat down to write it, he finished it in only four months.

It's the birthday of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, (books by this author) born in Besançon in the east of France (1809), seven years after Victor Hugo was born in the same town. Proudhon was a socialist journalist, and in 1840 he wrote the pamphlet "What Is Property?" In it, Proudhon said, "Property is theft."

It's the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., (books by this author) born in Atlanta (1929). It was 1955, early in King's new tenure as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on one of that city's busses. King was elected to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association, which was formed with the intention of boycotting the transit system. He was young — only 26 — and he knew his family connections and professional standing would help him find another pastorate should the boycott fail, so he accepted.

In his first speech to the group as its president of that organization, King said: "We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice."

The boycott worked, and King saw the opportunity for more change. He formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which provided him a national platform. For the next 13 years, King worked to peacefully end segregation. In 1963, he joined other civil rights leaders in the March on Washington — that's where he gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

It was on this day in 1622 that the playwright Moliére ( ) was baptized in Paris. Born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin to wealthy parents — his father was the royal upholsterer — Moliére attended school at the well-respected College de Clermont and studied law at Orleans.

He was expected to follow in his father's footsteps, but when he was 21, he became involved with a theatrical family, the Béjarts. He joined them and others to produce and play comedy as a company under the name of the Illustre Théâtre. He went on to become the father of French comedic theater. His plays include Tartuffe (1664), Le Misanthrope (1666), and Le Malade Imaginaire (1673).

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