Jul. 2, 2006

The Prayer

by Richard Jackson

SUNDAY, 2 JULY, 2006
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Poem: "The Prayer" by Richard Jackson from Half Lives. © Autumn House Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Prayer

Blessed be the year climbing its cliffs, the month crossing the fields
of hours and days, the bridges of minutes, the grass where we stood
that first moment, the festival music keeping our time, the hood
of the season's sky above us, the moment's fictive shield
against history, her tattered glance, her broken smile, everything real
or imagined, bless the rivers I invented to carry us, the woods
I planted as our own, bless even the sweet hurt, even the herd
of stars that trample my real heart which she has taught to heal.
Blessed be these trackless words running downstream
following the remote valleys she has cut through my life,
and blessed be the sounds they cannot make, but mean,
and blessed be all these pages watermarked with her name,
these thoughts that wander the unmapped roads of strife
and love, her blessed world whose dream is always a dream.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Wislawa Szymborska, (books by this author) born in Poland (1923). When she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, few people outside of Poland had ever heard of her. Her first poems were published in the Krakov newspaper, and for almost twenty years she edited a weekly column for the journal Literary Life. Her early poems dealt with the horrors of World War II and of the Stalin era. Her later poems are more personal, and her work is celebrated for its candor and gentle humor. When she accepted the Nobel Prize, she said, "They say the first sentence in any speech is always the hardest. Well, that one's behind me, anyway."

It's the birthday of Thomas Cranmer, (books by this author) Archbishop of Canterbury, born in Nottinghamshire, England (1489). He was a scholar and lecturer in divinity. In the late 1520s, King Henry VIII was trying to get the Pope's permission to divorce his wife so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Cranmer suggested that the King didn't need the Pope's permission. After presiding over the divorce trial, Cranmer was made an archbishop. He helped encourage England's break from Rome, which resulted in the foundation of the Anglican Church.

The greatest achievement of his life was his work compiling the Book of Common Prayer, which was a collection of English prayers that would be said at all kinds of church ceremonies, from masses and funerals to baptisms and weddings.

Cranmer didn't write or translate all the prayers from Latin himself, but he picked what he liked best about the existing translations and stitched them together. It was Thomas Cranmer who chose the passage from Job that would be read at so many funerals: "Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay."

Cranmer is responsible for the wedding vow, "I take thee to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart."

After the death of King Henry VIII and his successor Edward IV, Thomas Cranmer was arrested by the new Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. Cranmer was eventually burned at the stake.

It's the birthday of the first African American to serve as a Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, born in Baltimore, Maryland (1908).

He applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but he was rejected on the basis of race, so he enrolled at Howard University instead. The first thing he did, upon graduation, was use his law degree to sue the University of Maryland for racial discrimination, and he almost couldn't believe it when he won. Thanks to his efforts, the University of Maryland Law School admitted its first black student in 1935. It was the first time that a black student had ever been admitted to any state law school south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Marshall became the legal director of the NAACP, and of the thirty-two cases he argued for that organization, he won twenty-nine. His biggest case was the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. He went on to serve as an appeals court judge under Kennedy, and Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1967.

Thurgood Marshall said, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots."

It's the birthday of Hermann Hesse, (books by this author) born in Calw, Germany (1877). He's the author of many novels including Siddhartha (1922) and Steppenwolf (1929).

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




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