Nov. 8, 2007

The Necessary Brevity of Pleasures

by Samuel Hazo

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Poem: "The Necessary Brevity of Pleasures" by Samuel Hazo, from A Flight to Elsewhere. © Autumn House Press, 2005. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

The Necessary Brevity of Pleasures

Prolonged, they slacken into pain
  or sadness in accordance with the law
  of apples.
           One apple satisfies.
Two apples cloy.
                 Three apples
      Call it a tug-of-war   between enough and more
  than enough, between sufficiency
  and greed, between the stay-at-homers
  and globe-trotting see-the-worlders.
Like lovers seeking heaven in excess,
  the hopelessly insatiable forget
  how passion sharpens appetites
  that gross indulgence numbs.
      The haves have not
  what all the have-nots have
  since much of having is the need
  to have.
           Even my dog
  knows that - and more than that.
He slumbers in a moon of sunlight,
  scratches his twitches and itches
  in measure, savors every bite
  of grub with equal gratitude
  and stays determinedly in place
  unless what's suddenly exciting
           Viewing mere change
  as threatening, he relishes a few
  undoubtable and proven pleasures
  to enjoy each day in sequence
  and with canine moderation.
They're there for him in waiting,
  and he never wears them out.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1864 that Abraham Lincoln was elected to his second term as president of the United States, one of the few elections in world history to be held in the middle of a civil war. Lincoln might have tried to cancel or postpone the election until the war was over, but he said, "If the rebellion could force us to forego, or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us."

The Confederate Army had recently gotten so close to Washington, D.C., that Lincoln himself was able to watch a battle, standing on top of a parapet with field glasses. On July 30, 4,000 Union soldiers were killed in a disastrous attempt to invade Petersburg, Virginia. The army needed 500,000 more soldiers, Lincoln would probably have to call for another draft, and the war debt was becoming unsustainable. On August 23, Lincoln wrote a memo to his cabinet that said, "This morning, and for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected."

The Democratic Party was running on a platform of ending the war. But this turned out to be a huge mistake when news arrived in early September that the Union Army had captured Atlanta and Mobile. Suddenly, the Democratic Party looked like the party of surrender when Union forces were winning the war. Lincoln carried every state except New Jersey, Delaware, and Kentucky.

It's the birthday of the author of the most popular novel ever written about the Civil War, Margaret Mitchell, (books by this author) born in Atlanta (1900), who spent about 10 years writing Gone with the Wind. The book came out in 1936 and broke all publication records. It sold 50,000 copies sold in one day, a million copies in six months, and 2 million by the end of the year, all in the middle of the Great Depression.

Many critics in the North thought the book was melodramatic, but critics in the South praised its realism. It became assigned reading in many public schools in the South, and perhaps not coincidentally, a year after Gone with the Wind came out, a Confederate flag was flown over the city center in Atlanta for the first time since the Civil War.

It's the birthday of novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, (books by this author) born in Nagasaki, Japan (1954), but he grew up in Great Britain. His novel Remains of the Day (1989) won the Booker Prize and was made into a movie in 1993. His most recent book is Never Let Me Go (2005).

It's the birthday of Bram Stoker, (books by this author) born in Dublin (1847), who wrote his novel Dracula (1897) after he had a strange dream about a woman trying to kiss him on the throat. The novel was not a success. When Stoker died in 1912, not a single obituary mentioned his authorship of Dracula. But the first Dracula movie came out in 1922, and since then some version of Dracula has appeared in more than 250 movies.

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