Jun. 6, 2007

The Cat and the Moon

by William Butler Yeats

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Poem: "The Cat and the Moon" by W.B. Yeats. Public domain. (buy now)

The Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the anniversary of the largest amphibious invasion in history D-Day, (1944). It's when the Allied armies launched the invasion of Normandy. Dwight D. Eisenhower had planned the invasion, and had been arguing for it ever since America got into the war after Pearl Harbor. Most British military commanders thought it was too risky. Winston Churchill was particularly nervous about the idea of invading France.

But Eisenhower finally won the argument, and the Allies built dozens or airfields in Great Britain, stockpiled millions of tons of weapons and supplies, built tent cities along the ports of the English Channel where tens of thousands of soldiers would live.

The German commanders knew an invasion was coming. They'd spent weeks fortifying their positions, but the Allies had deceived the Nazis into thinking the invasion would come in near the French-Belgian border. They had a number of battle ships across from that point in the channel, and the Nazis took the bait and concentrated a good deal of their defensive forces in the wrong place.

June 6, 1944, was a foggy morning. Sometime after dawn, the English Channel was full of ships—a huge armada—1,200 fighting ships, 10,000 planes, more than 150,000 troops, a little more than half of them American. The plan was to bomb the beach to create craters in the sand for foxholes, and then send the ground troops up the beach.

When the troops reached the shore, they saw that the bombers had missed all of their targets. There was no protection on the beach. The landing craft were hit by a barrage of bullets. In less than a half an hour, more than two-thirds of the first company to reach the shore was killed. At first, the American commanders thought that the invasion had failed, but the first troops made some progress, and the second wave came in and slowly took over the fortified positions above the beach. By nightfall, more than 150,000 Allied troops had landed in France.

The Germans had tank divisions that could have driven the Allies back into the sea, but they got conflicting orders from the high command and didn't start to attack until late in the afternoon, almost ten hours after the invasion had started. The German commander said at the time, "If we don't succeed in throwing the Allies into the sea, we will have lost the war." The German tanks got to within three miles of the shore and then were driven back by Allied tanks and anti-tank guns, and no German unit ever again got so close to the beaches. Many historians saw that as the turning point of the war.

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