Wednesday

Jul. 2, 2008

827 The Only News I know

by Emily Dickinson

441 This is my letter to the World

by Emily Dickinson

The Only News I know...

The Only News I know
Is Bulletins all Day
From Immortality.

The Only Shows I see—
Tomorrow and Today—
Perchance Eternity—

The Only One I meet
Is God—The Only Street—
Existence—This traversed

If Other News there be—
Or Admirabler Show—
I'll tell it You—

This is my letter to the World...

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me—
The simple News that Nature told—
With tender Majesty

Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see—
For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen—
Judge tenderly—of Me

"The only news I know..." and "This is my letter to the World..." by Emily Dickinson. Reprinted with permission.

It's the birthday of German poet and novelist Hermann Hesse, (books by this author) born in Calw in the Black Forest of Germany (1877), the son of a Baltic-German from Estonia and a woman of Swabian and French-Swiss heritage. Both of his parents were once missionaries in India.

He went to boarding schools, where he was a precociously brilliant learner but had behavior issues. His parents wanted him to be a minister, so he went to a theological seminary when he was a teenager. But he left after nine months and later said, "From the age of 12 I wanted to be a poet, and since there was no normal or official road, I had a hard time deciding what to do after leaving school."

He apprenticed at a mechanic's shop and also at a bookstore. When he was 22, a small book of his poems was published. After World War I began, he moved to Switzerland; he opposed German nationalism and spoke up against the regime's violence, and for this he received a lot of hate mail. He began to travel a lot, spending much time in India and Italy. He renounced his German citizenship and instead became a Swiss citizen.

He suffered from recurring bouts of depression and even bought a revolver and left a suicide note when he was a teenager. For several years he underwent Jungian psychoanalysis. His works often involve a protagonist's spiritual search for enlightenment, and Hesse counts among his most characteristic works Siddhartha (1922), Der Steppenwolf (1927), and Die Morgenlandfahrt (1932) [The Journey to the East]. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he became Pope Benedict XVI, said that Steppenwolf is one of his favorite books because it "exposes the problem of modernity's isolated and self-isolating man." Hesse won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1946.

Shortly before his death, he wrote:

What you loved and what you strove for,
What you dreamed and what you lived through,
Do you know if it was joy or suffering?
G sharp and A flat, E flat or D sharp,
Are they distinguishable to the ear?

It was on this day in 1961 that Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho (books by this author). He was one of the most famous and most respected authors in the world at the time. It was originally reported that Hemingway had accidentally shot himself with a shotgun, but it eventually came out that he'd done so intentionally. The news was shocking, and many people wondered why he'd done it.

He'd had trouble writing since he'd participated in World War II. After the war was over he said, "[It's] as though you had heard so much loud music you couldn't hear anything played delicately." He'd been struggling to write a long novel called The Sea Book, but it wasn't coming together so he was only able to publish a small part of it called The Old Man and the Sea (1952). It got great reviews, and won the Pulitzer Prize, but he was frustrated that all he'd been able to produce was a small novella.

And then, in 1953, he decided to go on a safari in Africa, and he chartered a plane to fly over the countryside. Things went badly right from the start. On the first flight, the hydraulic system of the plane wasn't working well, and they had to make an emergency landing. Then, when they took off again, they almost collided with a flock of birds and crash landed on the shore of the Nile River. Hemingway sprained his shoulder and his wife broke several ribs. But still, they climbed into another plane for a third flight, and this one crashed almost as soon as it took off. Hemingway fractured his skull, got a concussion, cracked two discs in his spine, and suffered from internal bleeding.

Because a search team initially failed to find Hemingway's crashed plane, he was reported dead, and there were obituaries printed around the world. He later said that he strangely enjoyed reading what people said about him when they thought he was gone. He cut out the articles and saved them in two separate scrapbooks bound in zebra and lion skin.

But he never really recovered from the injuries he sustained in that plane crash, and he began to drink more and more as a way to self medicate. He wrote pages and pages about his experiences in Africa, but published none of it. Then, in 1956, he found a trunk of old manuscripts and notebooks from his early days as a writer in Paris, and those notebooks inspired him to write his memoir A Movable Feast(1964), about the period of his life just before he became famous. Many critics consider it his greatest work of nonfiction.

But almost as soon as he finished it, he began to suffer from insomnia and depression. He was having problems with his eyes, he was losing his hair, and he'd come down with a skin condition. He also became obsessed with the idea that he was under FBI surveillance, and his wife thought he was losing his mind. In fact, FBI records would later show that they did in fact have him under surveillance, and they even interviewed his psychiatrist. But he finally decided to check into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. The treatment did not help his depression, and he hated it. He wrote in a letter, "What is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business?"

But after several more treatments in June of 1961, he appeared to have gotten better, and his doctors decided to release him on June 26th of that year. He went back to the house where his wife was staying in Ketchum, Idaho. On the morning of July 2, 1961, he got up early, found his favorite shotgun and, in the foyer of the house, shot himself — before his wife had woken up. She later said that the noise that woke her sounded like a drawer slamming shut.

Just a few years earlier, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Hemingway had said: "Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. ... [The writer] grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day."

It's the birthday of the first African-American to serve as a Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1908). His mother was an elementary school teacher and his father was a steward at an all-white yacht club on the Chesapeake Bay.

He was a troublemaker in school, and as punishment for his misbehavior was often sent down to the school basement to memorize the Constitution. But by the time he graduated, he was an honor student. He originally considered becoming a dentist, but later said, "My father turned me into a lawyer without ever telling me what he wanted me to be. ... He taught me how to argue, challenged my logic on every point, even if we were discussing the weather."

He applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but he was rejected on the basis of race, so he enrolled at Howard University instead. The first thing he did, upon graduation was use his law degree to sue the University of Maryland for racial discrimination, and he almost couldn't believe it when he won. Thanks to his efforts, the University of Maryland Law School admitted its first black student in 1935. It was the first time that a black student had ever been admitted to any state law school south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Marshall became the legal director of the NAACP, and of the 32 cases he argued for that organization, he won 29. His biggest case was the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, challenging the long-standing precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson, which had established that public institutions could be segregated but still equal. During the arguments, Marshall was asked by Justice Felix Frankfurter what he meant by the word "equal." Marshall replied, "Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time, and in the same place."

The Supreme Court actually asked him to argue the case a second time, and he was shocked when the court ultimately agreed with him in a unanimous opinion. He later said, "I was delirious. What a victory! I thought I was the smartest lawyer in the entire world."

The decision took decades to be fully implemented, but Marshall would go down in history as the man responsible for dismantling the legality of segregation in America. He went on to serve as an appeals court judge under Kennedy, and Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1967.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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