Dec. 15, 2005

Idle Thought

by Don Marquis

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Poem: "idle thought" by Don Marquis from Archyology: the long lost tales of archy and mehitabel. © University Press of New England. Reprinted with permission.

idle thought

paris september
fifth nineteen
twenty three
what i like
about this place
is that it is
such a nice
place to loaf in
and loafing
is the best thing
in life
nature shows
us that
a caterpillar
just eats and
loafs and sleeps
and after a while
without any effort
it turns into
a butterfly
with nothing to do
but flit around
and be beautiful
but consider
the industrious
tumble bug
the tumble bug
toils and plants
and sweats
and worries
pushing its burden
up hill forever
like sisyphus
and pretty soon
some one
comes along
and thinks how
vulgar and ugly
the thing is
and steps on it
and squashes it
and beauty
are their own
mehitabel the cat
is still missing

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1791 that the Bill of Rights was adopted by the United States. It was the lack of a bill of rights that made the Constitution so controversial a few years before. Many people feared that the adoption of a strong central government could lead to tyranny unless certain rights were guaranteed to the people in writing. Patrick Henry refused to endorse the Constitution for that reason. Thomas Jefferson supported the new constitution, but when he read the first draft in France, he wrote a letter to James Madison saying, "Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on Earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences."

It was James Madison who finally realized that a bill of rights was essential to passage of the Constitution, and he promised all the states that a bill of rights would be immediately adopted upon the Constitution's ratification. Madison introduced the Bill of Rights into the first session of congress in 1789, and he used George Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights as the model for the new federal Bill of Rights. Madison originally supported the adoption of seventeen amendments, which was eventually trimmed to twelve, of which ten were adopted.

The rights that were included in the Bill of Rights were directly related to the recent experiences of the colonists. Many colonists had come to this country to get away from religious oppression, so the Bill of Rights protected the free exercise of religion. During the Revolutionary War, colonists had seen printers and journalists jailed and executed when they had opposed the British king, so the Bill of Rights protected the freedom of speech and the press.

The colonists had seen what ordinary citizens with guns could do when they had to fight a revolution against an oppressive government, and so the Bill of Rights protected the right to bear arms and raise militias. Many colonists had been forced to take British soldiers in their houses during the Revolutionary War, and they had also been subject to random searches and seizures by British police. So the Bill of Rights protected citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures, and against the quartering of soldiers. Colonists had seen people thrown into dungeons for no reason, had seen people tortured into giving confessions, had seen inquisitions go on for months, during which the accused were worn down by lengthy interrogations. And so the Bill of Rights gave citizens the right to due process of law, a speedy trial, the right to call witnesses, and the right to use a lawyer in one's own defense.

It's the birthday of Irish writer Edna O'Brien, born in County Clare in the west of Ireland (1932). She grew up in an isolated, rural community, where people were discouraged from reading anything other than religious books. But one woman in town had torn the chapters out of Gone with the Wind, and passed the chapters around so that everyone could read them. Those loose leaf chapters were the first fiction Edna O'Brien ever read.

O'Brien wrote her first novel, Country Girls (1960), at the age of 26, in only three weeks. It's the first book in a trilogy that follows the lives of two women from their childhood in a convent school in the west of Ireland to their unhappy marriages in London. The books talk openly about poverty and sexuality and religious repression. They were banned in Ireland as soon as they were published.

It's the birthday of poet Muriel Rukeyser, born in New York City (1913). Over five decades, she wrote over 15 collections of poetry, including The Green Wave (1948), The Speed of Darkness (1968), and Breaking Open (1973). A new collection of her work, Selected Poems, came out this year.

It's the birthday of the civil engineer, Gustave Eiffel, born in Dijon, France (1832). His Eiffel Tower still holds up well to the wind. In 1999, Paris was hit by a terrible storm that knocked down more than 100,000 trees. A record wind speed of 133 mph was recorded at the top of the tower. But the tower itself only swayed 9 centimeters.

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




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