Jan. 15, 2009

Having Confessed

by Patrick Kavanagh

Having confessed he feels
That he should go down on his knees and pray
For forgiveness for his pride, for having
Dared to view his soul from the outside.
Lie at the heart of the emotion, time
Has its own work to do. We must not anticipate
Or awaken for a moment. God cannot catch us
Unless we stay in the unconscious room
Of our hearts. We must be nothing,
Nothing that God may make us something.
We must not touch the immortal material
We must not daydream to-morrow's judgment—
God must be allowed to surprise us.
We have sinned, sinned like Lucifer
By this anticipation. Let us lie down again
Deep in anonymous humility and God
May find us worthy material for His hand.

"Having Confessed" by Patrick Kavanagh, from Collected Poems. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., (books by this author) born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929. He was a minister in Montgomery, Alabama, 26 years old, when he was chosen to lead a boycott of segregated buses. He didn't set out to become civil rights activist, and he said later that if he'd known what the job would entail, he might have turned it down. He wasn't even sure he wanted to become a preacher. As a teenager, he thought that the way people shouted and made noise in his Baptist church was embarrassing.

But during the bus boycott, during which he was assaulted and arrested and his house was bombed, he experienced what he described as a religious conversion. He realized that the civil rights movement was greater than King himself, greater than his own doubts, and that he had to act like a charismatic figurehead, even if he didn't feel like one. He said: "As I became involved, and as people began to derive inspiration from their involvement, I realized that the choice leaves your own hands. The people expect you to give them leadership."

It's the birthday of the writer Frank Conroy, (books by this author) born in New York City (1936). He wrote the memoir Stop-Time (1967) and the novel Body and Soul (1993). He directed the Iowa Writers' Workshop for 18 years. He once scolded a student for using irrelevant details in her short story. He said: "The author makes a tacit deal with the reader. You hand them a backpack. You ask them to place certain things in it — to remember, to keep in mind — as they make their way up the hill. If you hand them a yellow Volkswagen and they have to haul this to the top of the mountain — to the end of the story — and they find that this Volkswagen has nothing whatsoever to do with your story, you're going to have a very irritated reader on your hands."

It's the birthday of man known as "the father of the hydrogen bomb," the physicist Edward Teller, (books by this author) born in Budapest in 1908. He went to college in Germany, and studied with Werner Heisenberg, a leader in quantum mechanics. He finished a Ph.D. in theoretical physics at about the same time that the Nazis were coming to power, and he realized that, as a Jew, the hope of making an academic career in Germany no longer existed.

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