Aug. 29, 2009

6. News Will Arrive From Far Away

by Dana Gioia

News will arrive from far away: the phone
rings unexpectedly at night,
and a voice you almost recognize
will speak. Soft and familiar,
it mentions names you haven't heard for years,
names of another place, another time,
that street by street restore
the lost geography of childhood.
Half asleep you listen in the dark
gradually remembering where you are.
You start to speak. Then silence.
A dial tone. An intervening voice.
Or nothing. The call is finished.
Not even time to turn the lights on.
Now just the ticking of the clock,
the cold disorder of the bed.

"6. News Will Arrive From Far Away" by Dana Gioia from Daily Horoscope. © Graywolf Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of British philosopher John Locke, (books by this author) born in Wrington, Somerset, England (1632).

Locke wrote Two Treatises of Government (1690). He believed in Natural Law and that people have Natural Rights, under which the right of property is most important. He wrote, "… every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself." He believed government exists to protect those rights and he argued in favor of revolt against tyranny. His ideas were a foundation for much of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

John Locke said, "The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts."

On this day in 1904, 22-year-old James Joyce (books by this author) wrote to his church-going girlfriend Nora Barnacle to tell her that he'd fervently renounced the Catholic Church, and that he was bothered by her seeming indifference to him. James and Nora had met just a couple months prior, with their first date on June 16th — the day on which he would choose as the setting for his novel Ulysses. On this day in 1904, James Joyce wrote:

My dear Nora

… I may have pained you tonight by what I said but surely it is well you should know my mind on most things? My mind rejects the whole present social order and Christianity— home, the recognised virtues, classes of life, and religious doctrines. How could I like the idea of home? My home was simply a middle-class affair ruined by spendthrift habits which I have inherited. My mother was slowly killed, I think, by my father's ill-treatment, by years of trouble, and by my cynical frankness of conduct. When I looked on her face as she lay in her coffin — a face grey and wasted with cancer — I understood that I was looking on the face of a victim and I cursed the system which had made her victim. We were seventeen in family. My brothers and sisters are nothing to me. One brother alone is capable of understanding me.

Six years ago I left the Catholic Church, hating it most fervently. I found it impossible for me to remain in it on account of the impulses of my nature. I made secret war upon it when I was a student and declined to accept the positions it offered me. By doing this I made myself a beggar but I retained my pride. Now I make open war upon it by what I write and say and do. I cannot enter the social order except as a vagabond …

I spoke to you satirically tonight but I was speaking of the world not of you. I am an enemy of the ignobleness and slavishness of people but not of you.

… No human being has ever stood so close to my soul as you stand, it seems, and yet you can treat my words with painful rudeness ('I know what is talking now' you said). When I was younger I had a friend [Byrne] to whom I gave myself freely—in a way more than I give to you and in a way less. He was Irish, that is to say, he was false to me.

I have not said a quarter of what I want to say but it is great labour writing with this cursed pen. I don't know what you will think of this letter. Please write to me, won't you? Believe me, my dear Nora, I honour you very much but I want more than your caresses. You have left me again in an anguish of doubt.


Within weeks, Joyce had asked Nora if she would leave Ireland with him so that he could go be a writer in continental Europe. She readily agreed, and they began making plans and finding money for the journey. Joyce wrote her: "The fact that you can choose to stand beside me in this way in my hazardous life fills me with great pride and joy. … Allow me, dearest Nora, to tell you how much I desire that you should share any happiness that may be mine and to assure you of my great respect for that love of yours which it is my wish to deserve and to answer."

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




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