Feb. 11, 2003

Surreal Migrations, Part I

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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Poem: Part I of "Surreal Migrations," by Lawrence Ferlinghetti from How to Paint Sunlight (New Directions).

Part I of Surreal Migrations


My mind is racing
in the middle of the night
My mind races
through the darkness
around the world
through the darkness
of the world
Toward a tunnel of light

It races through
the night of Prague
through Staromak Square
with its Jan Hus sculpture
reading Love Each Other
And The Truth Will Triumph
It races on
through the night streets
Across the Charles Bridge
across the river
at the heart of Prague
Across the rivers of the world
Across the Rhine
Across the Rhone
Across the Seine
Across the Thames
Across Anna Livia's Liffey
Across Atlantic
Across Manhattan
Across great Hudson
into the heart of America

My heart is racing now
Across America
Across Ole Man River
rolling along

Where is the light?

My heart is racing now
Across terrific Pacific
Across the River of Yellow Light
of Sun Yat Sen
Across Gandhi's Ganges
Across Euphrates
Across the Nile
Across the Hellespont
Across Tiber
Across Arno
Across Dante's River Styx
through the medieval darkness
Into the heart of the tunnel of light
My heart and mind
are racing now
on the same beat
to the same music
It's not the music of Carmina Burana
It's the music of Don Giovanni
It's Mozart's Horn Concerto
It's the Yellow Submarine
Yellow Submarine
Yellow Submarine
There is a sign in the light
at the end of the tunnel
I am trying to read it

We are all
trying to read it

Dark figures dance in it
in the half-darkness
Light figures dance in it
in the half-light

It's the feast day of St. Caedmon, who lived during the seventh century and is said to be the first poet to write in the English language. He was a servant at a monastery before becoming a monk. One night, all of the servants were eating dinner, and a harp was passed around the table as each person recited poetry. The others at the table recited elegant verses, but Caedmon knew nothing about poetry and left the table in shame. It was his job to take care of the cattle that night, and so he retired to the stable and soon went to sleep. In his sleep a voice said to him, "Sing to me, Caedmon, sing of the Creation." And so he sang. When he awoke he remembered the verses he had sung and recited them to the monks in the monastery. They were amazed, but they doubted his talent and ordered him to transpose other biblical stories into verse. He returned the next morning with the stories transformed into beautiful poetry, and all the monks agreed that he had been touched by God. He quit his job as a servant and became a monk, and he continued to write poetry the rest of his life.

It's the birthday of Lydia Maria Child, born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1802. We know her as the woman who wrote "Over the River and Through the Woods," but she wrote much more than that. Not only did she write several anti-slavery tracts, appeals on behalf of Native American rights, and essays on the status of women in society, she also published novels, short stories, and poetry. When David Lee Child proposed to her, she had him sit at the bottom of her staircase for four hours while she considered the question of marriage while David pleaded his case. She went on to write the first historical novel published in the United States, Hobomok: A Tale of Early Ties (1824), among many other books.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Roy Fuller, born in Oldham, Lancashire, England in 1912. He wrote over thirty volumes of poetry, including two books inspired by his time as a lieutenant with the Royal Navy in World War II, The Middle of a War (1944) and A Lost Season (1944).

It's the birthday of Thomas Alva Edison, born in Milan, Ohio in 1847, who invented the phonograph.

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