Saturday

Oct. 12, 2013

Before Dark

by Wendell Berry

From the porch at dusk I watched
a kingfisher wild in flight
he could only have made for joy.

He came down the river, splashing
against the water's dimming face
like a skipped rock, passing

on down out of sight. And still
I could hear the splashes
farther and farther away

as it grew darker. He came back
the same way, dusky as his shadow,
sudden beyond the willows.

The splashes went on out of hearing.
It was dark then. Somewhere
the night had accommodated him

—at the place he was headed for
or where, led by his delight,
he came.

"Before Dark" by Wendell Berry, from New Collected Poems. © Counterpoint Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1892 that the Pledge of Allegiance was recited en masse for the first time, by more than 2 million students. It had been written just a month earlier by a Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy, who published it in Youth's Companion and distributed it across the country. It was recited on this day to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the Americas. It was slightly shorter in its 1892 version: "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands — one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

After that, it got revised twice, and both revisions made the Pledge wordier. The first was in 1923, when it was changed from "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America." This change was made to ensure that immigrants were pledging to the American flag and not the flags of their home countries. The second change was to add the words "under God." A few determined preachers worked for years to get it changed, but it wasn't until 1954 that it was amended. President Eisenhower attended a sermon by the Reverend George Docherty, who said: "Apart from the mention of the phrase, 'the United States of America,' this could be a pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity." Eisenhower was convinced and within a few months the Pledge was amended to include "under God" as a way to distinguish this country from the Soviet Union.

It's the birthday of author and psychologist Robert Coles (books by this author), born in Boston, Massachusetts (1929). He's the author of more than 60 books. Coles was in the South at the dawn of the civil rights movement, planning to lead a low-key life as a child psychologist. But one day, during a visit to New Orleans in 1960, he saw a white mob surrounding a six-year-old black girl named Ruby Bridges, who was kneeling in her starched white dress in the middle of it all to pray for the mob that was attacking her. Coles decided to begin what would become his work for the next few decades, an effort to understand how children and their parents come to terms with radical change. He conducted hundreds of interviews on the effects of school desegregation, and he shaped them into the first volume of Children of Crisis (1967), a series of books for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

When Coles was 66, he co-founded a new magazine about "ordinary people and their lives." It was called DoubleTake, and it featured photography and writing in the documentary tradition. The magazine was printed on fine paper with big, beautiful photo reproductions, and it won lots of awards.

Robert Coles said, "We should look inward and think about the meaning of our life and its purposes, lest we do it in 20 or 30 years and it's too late."

It's the birthday of the poet and translator Robert Fitzgerald (books by this author), born in Geneva, New York (1910), best known for his beautiful English translations of Homer's Odyssey (1961) and The Iliad (1974). He was also an influential classics professor at Harvard, and he believed that Homer's work should be always read aloud. One of his students said, "Every Tuesday afternoon, he'd start [class] by saying to us, 'Listen to this, now [...] It was meant to be listened to.' The 12 of us would listen, very quiet around the blond wood table, our jittery freshman muscles gradually unclenching." Robert Fitzgerald described Homer as "a living voice in firelight or in the open air, a living presence bringing into life his great company of imagined persons, a master performer at his ease, touching the strings, disposing of many voices, many tones and tempos, tragedy, comedy, and glory, holding his [listeners] in the palm of his hand."

It's the birthday of actress, playwright, and novelist Alice Childress (books by this author), born in Charleston, South Carolina (1916). Childress was primarily a playwright, and her plays included Trouble in Mind (1955), Wedding Band (1966), and Wine in the Wilderness (1969). But she's best known for her novels A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich (1973) and A Short Walk (1979).

Childress said, "Life is just a short walk from the cradle to the grave, and it sure behooves us to be kind to one another along the way."

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

 









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