Friday

Oct. 31, 2008

I'll Be Seeing You

by Jo McDougall

World War II is slipping away, I can feel it.
Its officers are gray.
Their wives who danced at the USO
are gray, too.
Veterans forget their stories. Some lands they fought in
have new names, and Linda Venetti
who deserted the husband who raised cows
to run off with an officer
has come home to look after her mother
and work the McDonald's morning shift.
William Holden is dead,
and my mother, who knew all the words
to "When the Lights Go On Again All over the World."

"I'll Be Seeing You" by Jo McDougall from Towns Facing Railroads. © University of Arkansas Press, 1991. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Halloween. Halloween's origins date back about 2,000 years, to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts lived in the cold parts of Northern Europe — in Britain, Ireland, and the north of France — and so for them, the new year began on November 1st, the end of the fall harvest and the beginning of winter. The night before the new year, on October 31st, the division between the world of the living and the world of the dead dissolved, and the dead could come to earth again. This was partly bad and partly good — these spirits would damage crops and cause sickness, but they also helped the Celtic priests, the druids, to tell the future, to make predictions about the coming year. The druids built huge bonfires, and regular people put out their own fires in their homes and crowded together around these fires, where they burned sacrifices for the gods, told each other's fortunes, and dressed in costumes — usually animal skins and heads. At the end of the celebration, they took a piece of the sacred bonfire and relit their own fires at home with this new flame, which was meant to help them stay warm through the long winter ahead.

First the Romans co-opted Samhain and combined it with their festivals, and then the Christians co-opted both the Celtic and Roman celebrations. In the ninth century, the pope decided that these pagan festivals needed to be replaced with a Christian holiday, so he just moved the holiday called All Saints' Day from May 13 to November 1. All Saints' Day was a time for Christians to honor all the saints and martyrs of their religion. The term for All Saints' Day in Middle English was Alholowmesse, or All-hallowmass. This became All-hallows, and so the night before was referred to as All-hallows Eve, and finally, Halloween.

It was on this day in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther was a monk who disagreed with the Catholic Church's practice of selling indulgences, which forgave the punishment for sins. Luther thought that God offered forgiveness freely without having to pay for it, and he wanted to reform the Catholic Church. He posted the theses as points to be argued in a public debate. He had no intention of creating a new branch of the Church, but that is what he did, more or less. He set in motion a huge rift within the Church, which eventually led to the Reformation.

It's the birthday of the poet Annie Finch, (books by this author) born on this day in 1956 in New Rochelle, New York. Her newest book of poetry is Calendars (2003).

An interviewer asked Annie Finch how she would explain to a seven-year-old what a poem was, and she said, "A poem is words that fit together in a special way so it's easy to remember and it sounds like magic."

It's the birthday of the poet John Keats, (books by this author) born on this day in Finsbury Pavement, near London, in 1795. His father was a stable keeper, but he died when Keats was eight years old. And when Keats was a teenager, his mother died of tuberculosis. Keats hadn't been much of a reader before his mother's death, but afterward he started to read all the time, especially old classics and poetry like Spenser's "Faerie Queen." He spent a few years as an apprentice in a hospital and even worked as a surgeon, but he quit and focused on poetry. He published his first book, Poems, in 1817, but it got bad reviews and didn't sell well. Then Keats realized he was suffering from tuberculosis, so he moved to a friend's house in the country. And there he lived next door to a beautiful and fashionable young woman named Fanny Brawne, and he fell in love with her. In love, knowing he was sick, in just a few months he wrote most of the poems that he's famous for, including "To Psyche," "To a Nightingale," and "On a Grecian Urn."

But his tuberculosis was getting worse, and his doctor told him to leave England and go to Italy instead, which he did. He died in Rome in 1821, just after a crushing review was published about his epic poem Endymion.

Endymion begins with the line: "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever."

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

 









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