May 4, 2003


by Seamus Heaney

SUNDAY, 4 MAY 2003
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Poem: "Follower," by Seamus Heaney from Selected Poems, 1966-1987 (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux).


My father worked with a horse-plough,
His shoulders globed like a full sail strung
Between the shafts and the furrow.
The horses strained at his clicking tongue.

An expert. He would set the wing
And fit the bright steel-pointed sock.
The sod rolled over without breaking.
At the headrig, with a single pluck

Of reins, the sweating team turned round
And back into the land. His eye
Narrowed and angled at the ground,
Mapping the furrow exactly.

I stumbled in his hobnailed wake,
Fell sometimes on the polished sod;
Sometimes he rode me on his back
Dipping and rising to his plod

I wanted to grow up and plough,
To close one eye, stiffen my arm.
All I ever did was follow
In his broad shadow round the farm.

I was a nuisance, tripping, falling,
Yapping always. But today
It is my father who keeps stumbling
Behind me, and will not go away.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Irish poet Thomas Kinsella, born in Dublin (1928). He's the author of many books of poetry, including Notes from the Land of the Dead (1972) and Blood and Family (1989).

It's the birthday of Horace Mann, born in Franklin, Massachusetts (1796). He was the first great American advocate of public education. He believed that, in a democratic society, education should be free and universal.

It's the birthday of Thomas Henry Huxley, born in Ealing, England (1825). The grandfather of Aldous Huxley, Thomas was an English biologist and educator. He coined the word "agnostic." His strong public support of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution earned him the nickname "Darwin's bulldog."

It's the birthday of Israeli novelist Amos Oz, born Amos Klausner in Jerusalem (1939). As a child he watched Israel become a nation. In 1948 he filled sandbags along with other schoolchildren in preparation for the siege of Jewish Jerusalem in the War of Independence. He left home at fifteen against his father's wishes to become a peasant-soldier on a kibbutz, and he changed his last name to Oz, which means strength in Hebrew. He has written many novels, including My Michael (1968) and The Same Sea (2001).

It's the birthday of novelist and short story writer David Guterson, born in Seattle, Washington (1956). He worked for many years as a high school teacher, and the two books he always assigned were Romeo and Juliet and To Kill A Mockingbird. When he wrote his first novel, he combined the story of star-crossed lovers with a courtroom drama about race. The novel was Snow Falling on Cedars (1994), about the murder trial of a Japanese-American in the wake of World War II, and it won the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction.

It was on this day in 1886 that the Haymarket Square Riot broke out in Chicago. The day before, on May 3rd, police had shot several lumber workers, killing one of them, after a strike at the McCormick lumber plant turned violent. To protest the police actions, a second demonstration was held in Haymarket Square on May 4th. It was a peaceful demonstration, attended by the mayor and about 1500 men, and after it started to rain, most of the crowd went home. The final speaker, a man named Samuel Fielden, was about to finish his speech when the police arrived and demanded that the crowd disperse. Fielding shouted, "We are peaceable," and suddenly a bomb flew through the air, trailing sparks. It struck the ground near the police and exploded, killing seven policemen. The surviving policemen attacked the crowd with their clubs and pistols. The identity of the bomber was never proven. Thirty-one prominent labor leaders were arrested, eight were convicted of having planned the bombing, and four were hanged, with almost no proof. Among the men hanged was August Spies, who shouted from the gallows, "There will be a time when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you hear today!"

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