Tuesday

Aug. 6, 2013

Small Comfort

by Katha Pollitt

Coffee and cigarettes in a clean cafe,
forsythia lit like a damp match against
a thundery sky drunk on its own ozone,

the laundry cool and crisp and folded away
again in the lavender closet-too late to find
comfort enough in such small daily moments

of beauty, renewal, calm, too late to imagine
people would rather be happy than suffering
and inflicting suffering. We're near the end,

but O before the end, as the sparrows wing
each night to their secret nests in the elm's green dome
O let the last bus bring

love to lover, let the starveling
dog turn the corner and lope suddenly
miraculously, down its own street, home.

"Small Comfort" by Katha Pollitt, from The Mind-Body Problem. © Random House, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (books by this author) born in Lincolnshire, England (1809). Tennyson gave us some of the most familiar lines in English poetry, including "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" and "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die."

His famous lyric poems include "Tears, idle tears" and "Crossing the Bar," but many consider Tennyson's masterpiece to be "In Memoriam A.H.H." He started writing the elegy in 1833 after his close friend Arthur Hallam had a cerebral hemorrhage and died suddenly. The poem was controversial because it questioned the tenets of Christian faith. Tennyson wrote: "Who trusted God was love indeed / And love Creation's final law — / Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw / With ravine, shriek'd against his creed." It wasn't until 1850 that he published the poem, 17 years after Hallam's death. That same year, he was appointed poet laureate of England, succeeding William Wordsworth. Tennyson would keep the position for 42 years, until his death in 1892, the longest that anyone ever held the post. After the death of her husband, Albert, Queen Victoria was said to have kept a copy of Tennyson's elegy always within reach.

It was on this day in 1965 that Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act that ended the long era of voter discrimination in many Southern states. Johnson had been delaying legislation on voting rights, because he thought it was too soon for it to succeed. But after a group of civil rights marchers were attacked in Selma, Alabama, he gave a speech on TV, in which he said: "I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote ... it is all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome."

That was the first time the president of the United States had ever used the phrase, "We shall overcome." Martin Luther King Jr. was watching the address on TV that night, and he later said that when he heard Lyndon Johnson say the words "we shall overcome," he burst into tears. The president signed the legislation a few months later, on this day in 1965.

And it was on this day in 1945 that the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. It was the first time that a nuclear weapon was ever used in warfare, and only the second time that a nuclear weapon had ever been exploded. It was dropped over Hiroshima at 8:15 in the morning. It exploded 1,900 feet above the ground. Capt Robert Lewis watched the explosion from his cockpit and wrote in his journal, "My God, what have we done?"

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

 









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