Feb. 12, 2005

Love Poem

by Linda Pastan

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Poem: "Love Poem" by Linda Pastan, from The Imperfect Paradise © W.W. Norton. Reprinted with permission.

Love Poem

I want to write you
a love poem as headlong
as our creek
after thaw
when we stand
on its dangerous
banks and watch it carry
with it every twig
every dry leaf and branch
in its path
every scruple
when we see it
so swollen
with runoff
that even as we watch
we must grab
each other
and step back
we must grab each
other or
get our shoes
soaked we must
grab each other

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, born in a log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky (1809). He is known as one of the best orators ever to hold the office of president, and he delivered the Gettysburg Address, which he first thought was a failure. The brief, famous speech begins: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Lincoln grew up on rural farms in Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, and had almost no formal schooling. When Lincoln was a boy, there were only a few books around the house, but he read them again and again, and by doing so, he came to believe that he could shape his own destiny. By age 21, Lincoln was on his own. He moved to New Salem, Illinois and worked as a storekeeper, but that business failed because Lincoln cared for books more than customers. Then he became the town's postmaster, and he also began to study the law. Lincoln chose to study the law because a self-educated man could succeed at it, and he was known to borrow heavily from the personal libraries of his friends while he pursued this own education. Lincoln also wrote legal documents for Bowling Green, the local justice of the peace.

Lincoln was elected to the Illinois state legislature in 1834, and two years later he became a lawyer and moved to Springfield, Illinois to practice law. Of practicing law, Lincoln said, "As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough." He also served in Congress as a member of the Whig party, and he campaigned for Zachary Taylor, and he thought he'd be the Commissioner of the General Land Office when Taylor was elected president. But he was not selected for the post, and so Lincoln retired from politics and practiced law full time.

Lincoln returned to politics because he opposed so strongly the policies of Stephen Douglas, and Lincoln ran against Douglas for the Senate. When he accepted the Republican nomination, Lincoln stated his opposition to slavery and support for the Union, saying, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Lincoln and Douglas held several famous debates throughout Illinois, in towns like Springfield, Peoria, and Galesburg. Lincoln lost the election, but two years later the Republicans nominated him for president, and he won that election by defeating several candidates, including Douglas.

Lincoln is well known for his opposition to slavery, and for helping to end slavery in the South, and for leading the Union to victory in the Civil War. He issued his Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves, once it was clear that the Union would defeat the Confederacy. Lincoln had plans for reconstruction of the South following the war, and hinted at those plans in his second inaugural address, saying, "With malice toward none; with charity for all." But, on the evening of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot by the actor John Wilkes Booth while attending a performance at the Ford Theater, and he died the following morning.

Abraham Lincoln said, "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

And he said, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

It's the birthday of Thomas Campion, born in London (1567), who is known for writing masques and poems. In his poem "Winter Nights" he wrote, "Now winter nights enlarge / The number of their hours, / And clouds their storms discharge / Upon the airy towers. / Let now the chimneys blaze / And cups o'erflow with wine; / Let well-tuned words amaze / With harmony divine."

Campion's parents died when he was young, but they left him enough money to attend Cambridge. Campion left Cambridge without finishing his degree, choosing instead to attend law school. He studied at Gray's Inn in London for several years, but he never actually practiced law.

During this time, Campion also began publishing poetry. He hated poems that rhymed, preferring poetry written according to the length and duration of the syllables, a kind of writing called "quantitative verse." He published five songs in 1591, and four years later he published a book of poetry called Poemata (1595). He also wrote Observations in the Art of English Poesie (1602), where he talked about his theories on poetry, theories he himself rarely followed.

Campion wrote masques after he became a medical doctor in 1602. Many of them were performed in the court of James I, including his most famous, the Lords' Masque (1613).

Thomas Campion said, "I have chiefly aimed to couple my words and notes lovingly together, which will be much for him to do that hath not power over both."

It's the birthday of Cotton Mather, born in Boston (1663). He is best known as a Puritan minister, and as the author of The Wonders of the Invisible World and the Ecclesiastical History of New England.

Mather was the son of Increase Mather, and the grandson of Richard Mather and John Cotton, and he became a colleague of his father's at North Church in Boston. He achieved most of his influence as a religious man and writer before his thirtieth birthday, before the witch trials began. Mather's father opposed the trials, but Mather himself supported them, and he wrote The Wonders of the Invisible World to show the many dangers of witchcraft. Mather's participation in the witch-hunt damaged his reputation and influence.

Mather wanted to be the president of Harvard College, like his father, but he was never offered the job, though he was offered the presidency of Yale, an offer he refused. Mather believed education was important to the spiritual future of the United States, for he once observed that "the Country is perishing for want of [education]; they are sinking apace into Barbarism and all Wickedness." Mather is known today for helping to make New England into an American cultural center.

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