Saturday

Jun. 4, 2011

Now I Become Myself

by May Sarton

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before--"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

"Now I Become Myself" by May Sarton, from Collected Poems 1930-1993. © W.W. Norton, 1993. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1917, the first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded. The Pulitzer is administered by Columbia University in New York, at the bequest of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who also founded Columbia's journalism school. When Pulitzer made out his will in 1904, he specified four awards in journalism, four in literature and drama, one in education, and four travel fellowships. The board has since attempted to stick to Pulitzer's original intent, although they've added awards in poetry, photography, and music.

In 1917, the award was given out in only four categories: Biography or Autobiography, History, Reporting, and Editorial Writing. It's now awarded in 21 categories: 14 in journalism, six in letters, and one in music.

The award has not been without its controversies. One charge commonly leveled is that preference is shown for journalism — especially commentary — with a liberal slant; 2010 winner Kathleen Parker claimed, "It's only because I'm a conservative basher that I'm now recognized." Janet Cooke and The Washington Post were forced to give up the 1981 Feature Writing prize when it was revealed that Cooke had fabricated her story of an eight-year-old heroin addict. And occasionally, the Pulitzer board overrules the jury's choice; in 1963, the drama jury nominated Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But the board objected to the play's rough language and sexual permissiveness; they deemed it "insufficiently uplifting." And though the three-member fiction jury unanimously recommended Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow for the prize in 1973, they were overruled by the other 11 members of the board, who found the book "unreadable," "turgid," "over-written," and "obscene."

On this day in 1919, Congress approved the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the vote. One could say that the American women's suffrage movement began in 1776, when Abigail Adams asked her husband John to "remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors" when approving the Constitution. The movement grew hand in hand with the abolitionist movement; many women were active in both causes, and Frederick Douglass often spoke at women's rights rallies. The proposed Fifteenth Amendment, granting voting rights to black men, caused a division in the suffrage movement's leaders: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony refused to support it because it didn't grant the same rights to women; Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone argued that it would eventually lead to voting rights for all.

Some states began extending limited voting rights to women in the latter half of the 19th century, and in 1869 two organizations — the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association — began campaigning for a constitutional amendments on the national and state levels, respectively. The United States Congress first introduced an amendment in 1878, and would continue to introduce it with every new Congress, but it took more than 40 years to gain the needed two-thirds majority to pass.

In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote her "Declaration of Sentiments," which wisely adopted the language of the Declaration of Independence in calling for voting rights for women:

"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

She concludes, "Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation — in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States."

On this day in 1973, Don Wetzel registered a patent for the automated teller machine, or ATM. He's not the undisputed father of the ATM, however; there were several different people working on the idea at the same time, in Japan, Sweden, and Great Britain as well as the United States. American Luther George Simjian had filed a patent for a cash dispenser in 1960, and John Shepherd-Barron invented one for the British bank Barclays in 1967. Many of the early machines were limited in function, were accessed by single-use tokens or were linked to credit cards rather than a cash account. Working for the automated baggage-handling company Docutel, Wetzel and his colleagues Tom Barnes and George Chastain developed the ATM card as we know it today: a plastic card with a magnetic strip and an imbedded PIN code.

It's the anniversary of the June 4th Incident, otherwise known as the Tiananmen Square Incident, in Beijing (1989). In the late 1980s, Chinese students and intellectuals began calling for economic and political reform in the wake of a period of great economic growth in China. The former general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, was also in favor of a more democratic China, but he was forced out of office in 1987. He died in April 1989, and on the day of his funeral, 100,000 students gathered in Tiananmen Square to demand reform; similar protests also arose in cities across China, but the Western media was already in Beijing to cover a visit by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, so the Tiananmen Square protests drew the most international attention. By May, about a million people were demonstrating.

The government responded by issuing warnings to disperse, but to no avail. Martial law was declared in mid-May, but crowds of protestors blocked all avenues to the square and the army was unable to get through. Desperate to prevent anarchy, the government massed tanks and heavily armed troops overnight on June 3, and the next morning they rolled into Tiananmen Square, crushing or shooting anyone who stood in their way. Most of the protestors in the square fled and the military had complete control by June 5. The official Chinese government death toll was 241, with 7,000 wounded; other estimates place the number much higher.

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

 









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