Jan. 8, 2014

To the New Year

by W. S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

"To the New Year" by W.S. Merwin, from Collected Poems 1996-2011. © Library of America, 2013. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It was on this day in 1790 that the first State of the Union Address in American history took place. George Washington delivered it in New York City, which was the capital of the U.S. at the time. He spoke before the Senate and House of Representatives, giving a fairly short speech, about the equivalent of three single-spaced typewritten pages.

He began the speech with the good news that North Carolina was joining the Union. He said that countries around the world seemed to be showing increasing good will toward the young American government, that the "respectability" of their revolutionary government was growing, and that the "peace and plenty" with which America was blessed should be considered good omens that the nation would be prosperous.

And in this speech, which he gave 224 years ago today, George Washington talked about the dilemma of protecting the borders, about the need for immigration reform, about how important it was for the nation to support scientific development, and about setting up national higher education. Washington ended his speech with a plea that Congress cooperate with him for the good of the American people. The words he used were these:

"Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives:
... The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed, and I shall derive great satisfaction from a cooperation with you in the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government."

On this date in 1877, Lakota Sioux warrior Crazy Horse fought his last battle against the United States Army, half a year after the Battle of Little Big Horn in June 1876. The battle took place at Wolf Mountain in Montana against General Miles' army; Crazy Horse and his band had engaged the army throughout the fall and winter. By January, they were weakened and hungry. In May, Crazy Horse led his remaining people to Fort Robinson and formally surrendered.

Today is the birthday of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, born in Tupelo, Mississippi (1935). His first stage performance came in 1945, when he was 10 years old. He sang "Old Shep" at a talent contest, and came in fifth, winning five dollars' worth of ride tickets for the Mississippi-Alabama fair. The following year, he wanted a bicycle, but his parents were too poor to buy one. His mother, Gladys, talked him into accepting a substitute gift: a guitar, which cost $12.95 at the Tupelo Hardware Company.

The family moved to Memphis when Presley was 13, and he grew up in public housing and listening to Memphis R&B. These, along with Tennessee country music that he heard on the radio, were his musical roots. When he was 18, working as a truck driver, he wanted to give his mom a gift, so he stopped by the Memphis Recording Service, where you could record your own songs for a small fee. He had $4, and with that money he was able to record two songs: "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin." The Memphis Recording Service was also the home of Sun Records, and Elvis caught the attention of owner Sam Phillips, who called the young truck driver back in to see what other songs he knew.

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




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