Friday, September 28, 2012

A big announcement

It probably was not a good idea to ask you in yesterday’s post to spend 55 minutes and 35 seconds watching writer Anne Lamott being interviewed.

That is not the big announcement.

The big announcement is that today this blog turns...


This quiet, subdued celebration has been deemed ecologically correct by the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States Government and has also been awarded the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

If you believe that, I have some swamp land down in Florida and a bridge in Brooklyn that you might be interested in acquiring.

But the part about being 5 is true.

Scout’s honor.


The celebration would have been perfect if the postage stamp had been a 5-cent stamp.

One makes do with what one has.

Here is my very first post.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Buddy, can you spare 55 minutes, 35 seconds?

If you can, you could do worse than spend it watching and listening to writer Anne Lamott being interviewed by Teresa Miller a few years ago at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Here’s Part 1 (27:47) and here’s Part 2 (27:48).

You’ll be glad you did.

If you’re not glad you did, your money will be refunded cheerfully at the door.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The funniest five-and-a-half minutes of 2012 so far

...occurred at the opening of the 2012 London Olympics (5:37).

A close second was Queen Elizabeth II jumping out of a helicopter and parachuting into the stadium, but she was disqualified from the competition when it was revealed that a stunt double had done the actual jumping.

Here are Queen Elizabeth and some close associates in 2009 at the dedication of a statue of the Queen Mother.


...or as I like to call the photograph, “We few, we happy few.”

Even Mr. Bean would have had trouble making this group laugh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up

“Man on the street” interviews sometimes reveal more than you might expect.

As reported today at RealClearPolitics.com, America’s king of radio shock jocks Howard Stern sent a couple of his guys to Harlem to ask people about the 2012 election.

Their answers are not just eye-opening, they are downright jaw-dropping.

Just for the record and my international reading public, Obama is not Mormon, Romney is not Muslim, Paul Ryan is not Obama’s running mate, Paul Ryan is not black, John McCain is not a candidate, Sarah Palin is not a candidate, and Osama bin Laden is no longer with us.

You’d never know it from these interviews. though. Watch and listen and pick yourself up off the floor (7:29).

As Stern’s co-host Robin Quivers said, “Well, we’re obviously dealing with a whole population that doesn’t listen to the newscasts or read a newspaper.”

Obviously.

Well, at least Roseanne Barr is still funny (7:32).

Oops, wrong again.

Well, at least the people interviewed in Harlem got their fifteen minutes seconds of fame.

Monday, September 24, 2012

There won’t always be an England

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head?

Of course you have.

Last Wednesday evening, on the way home from our weekly Discipleship class, Mrs. RWP and I stopped at our local Waffle House. Our local Waffle House is a really upscale establishment, with a jukebox and everything. While we were there, the boyfriend of the night-shift waitress decided to illustrate what a big-time spender he is and parted with 25 cents to play some music for his beloved.

As a result, this song (2:29) threatened to become stuck in my brain, which would have been a fate worse than death, in my opinion.

But “Yellow Submarine” did not become stuck in my brain because another song was already stuck there. It still is. I have been replaying one particular song mentally for about two weeks now.

Oddly enough, it isn’t “There’ll Always Be An England” as performed by Tiny Tim on the Isle of Wight in 1970 (1:17).

No, the song stuck in my head is a Southern Gospel song, written in 1948 by a man named Vep Ellis. I do not know why it is stuck in my head; it just is.

Readers, this is your lucky day. I have decided to share this song with you in a performance by the Gaither Vocal Band in 2002. As often happens with Southern Gospel quartets, there’s some silliness at the beginning, but I choose to overlook that in the spirit of Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do and I hope you will too. But these guys -- David Phelps (high tenor), Guy Penrod (lead tenor), Mark Lowry (baritone), and Bill Gaither (bass) -- can really sing. Here is Vep Ellis’s “There’ll Always Be the Love of God” (5:42).

There is one thing in that song that bothers me, though -- Snowbrush, take note -- and it’s this: the last two lines of the chorus do not appear to be Scriptural. Although there is a lot of truth in that song in my opinion, and the tune is downright catchy, when Vep Ellis wrote, “When all this earth shall pass away there’ll always be the love of God” he was misquoting Scripture. The New Testament tells us (three times, in fact, in Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, and Luke 21:33) that Jesus said these words: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”

I know; picky, picky. But they’re not the same thing at all.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke used the Greek words λόγοι μου, logos mon, which is “my words” in English.

If Vep Ellis had written his song in Greek, he would have used the Greek words ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ, agapē ton Theos, which is “love of God” in English.

Two different concepts altogether.

Or maybe not. The Gospel of John opens with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot extinguish it.” So if the Word is God, and if, as we’re told elsewhere, God is love, maybe they’re not different concepts after all. And we certainly mustn’t forget all those instances in the Old Testament where we read, “his love endures forever.” Hmmmm....

Be that as it may, and I mean no disrespect whatsoever toward the Beatles or England or even Tiny Tim, if one of the songs in this post gets stuck in your head, I hope it is Vep’s.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Calling all scientists, geeks, nerds, and short-order cooks

Today is special. Today is one of two days each year when, if you wish, you can balance an egg on end.

Today is the autumnal equinox. The other time is the vernal equinox in March.

Do people in the Southern Hemisphere refer to the equinoxes the same way people in the Northern Hemisphere do? I mean, what we call the autumnal equinox occurs in their spring and what we call the vernal equinox occurs in their autumn. Also, their water swirls the other way around in their toilets. Perhaps Katherine and/or Helsie will explain to us why this is so.

The equinoxes are distinguished from the solstices in that while on an equinox you can, if you wish, balance an egg on end, on a solstice you can only fry an egg on the sidewalk (if it happens to be the summer solstice) or freeze and egg on the sidewalk (if it happens to be the winter solstice). Except, of course, if you happen to be in the Southern Hemisphere. In some years, of course, you can do neither because the day may not be, on the one hand, hot enough or, on the other hand, cold enough, to perform the aforementioned astounding scientific feats.

But today, trust me, you can, if you wish, balance an egg on end.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

To boldly go where no man has gone before

If Earth were Star Trek and the western nations were the United Federation of Planets and the nations where a certain peaceful-sounding but actually quite bellicose religion that shall remain nameless holds sway were the Klingon Empire, then the solution to our current dilemma on the international scene would be simple. Obvious and simple.

All we would need to do is to wait for the sequel, namely Earth: The Next Generation.

“Pshaw!” you may be saying. “Pshaw!”

And I respond, “No, really!”

Think about it.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the overly melodramatic James Tiberias Kirk, Captain of the Starship USS Enterprise (William Shatner, in a role he was born to play), has been succeeded by the cool, calm, and quietly cerebral Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart).

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf -- a Klingon -- is a member of the Enterprise crew. The Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets have ceased wartime hostilities and become galactic allies, while more sinister foes like the Romulans and the Borg require the former enemies to join forces to fight a common enemy. [Editor’s note. Regrettably -- and here’s the rub -- it took 80 years for this phenomenon to occur. --RWP]

Okay, so Star Trek: The Next Generation may not have Mr. Spock or Dr. McCoy or Lieutenant Uhuru, but it has a blind guy who can see better than his sighted shipmates (Geordi La Forge), an empath (the ship’s half-human, half-Betazoid counselor, Deanna Troi), an android as operations officer (Data), and a really neat bartender who looks like Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan).

It’s simple, really.

All that our world needs to resolve the current crisis are a blind guy who can see, an empath, an android, and a really neat bartender who looks like Whoopi Goldberg.

You read it here first.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Something the Internet has been dying to have

...is a compendium, which is to say, a list, of my most popular posts.

In the nearly five years this blog has been in existence, I have published 1,043 posts, including this one. Some of them received very little attention. Some of them never received even a single comment. Some of them, however, continue to attract readers week after week.

According to Blogger, here are my top 20 posts in terms of the number of times they have been viewed:

Key to interpreting the information below:
Rank. / Title (date) / No. times viewed


20. My 869th post (Dec. 9. 2011), 393
19. Guest blogger Billy Ray Barnwell shares financial secret (Nov. 20, 2009), 433
18. Garrison Keillor’s favorite joke (Nov. 7, 2008), 457
17. Something is rotten in the state of Vrindravan (Jan. 12, 2012, 503
16. Happy 175th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto (Apr. 21, 2011), 535
15. Humpty Dumpty, Babe Ruth, and six degrees of separation (5/08/09), 555
14. What’s your sign? (3/28/11), 563
13. Who’s your Daddy, er, representative? (9/02/09), 615
12. I don’t know Nick the bartender from Adam’s off ox (6/26/10), 657
11. My dog has fleas, and other remembrances (4/13/10), 667
10. Electoral College for Dummies (11/3/08), 724
9. “Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe” (1/29/09), 1,022
8. Mica, mica, parva stella... (How insanity begins) (5/12/09), 1,109
7. Welcome, sweet Springtime, we greet thee in song! (4/19/10), 1,124
6. I meant to post this rebus yesterday (3/19/10), 1,303
5. Flannery O’Connor writes of peacocks (5/09/08), 1,938
4. Lazy Day (5/08/12), 1,988
3. I always loved the Waltons (1/30/09), 3,458
2. A B C D goldfish? L M N O goldfish! O S A R...C M? (1/20/11), 5,051

and my most-viewed post:

1. And now, for a complete change of pace, here’s... (9/13/10), 16,012

I have just enough smarts to realize that although clever titles may bring people to blogs initially, clever titles are not what bring people to blogs over the long haul. What bring people to blogs over the long haul are labels, those little tags you can add at the end after you have finished writing your post.

For example, on my A B C D goldfish? post, the labels are cursive writing, D’Nealian Script, handwriting, Palmer method, and Spencerian Script.

On my most-viewed post (And now for a complete change of pace, here’s...), the labels are Alfalfa, Ellen DeGeneres, and Gladys Hardy.

However, and this is why I even brought up the subject in the first place, my fourth-most-viewed post (Lazy Day) doesn’t have a single label. Not one.

Does anyone have a clue how or why Lazy Day made the list?

Help me out, people. The Internet may be dying for other reasons, but I’m dying of curiosity.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My word!

Does a word ever pop into your head for no reason that you can fathom other than the sheer beauty of the sound of it?

What I’m saying is, sometimes a word pops into my head for no reason that I can fathom other than the sheer beauty of the sound of it.

Yesterday, out of the blue, these were the words:

compendium
duplicitous
mahogany
lothario
antimacassar
pendulum

I can hardly wait to discover what words will find me today.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The newest thing in doggie olympics...

is synchronized sleeping:

(Unretouched and unstaged photo of Jethro and pal, taken with my phone on Sep. 16, 2012)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Merci beaucoup, Vagabonde!

Thanks go out to Vagabonde for showing me how to add a Flag Counter to my blog. I will no longer have to count my little flag files by hand.

Vagabonde is from France originally but lives today in Marietta, Georgia. Mrs. RWP and I lived in Marietta from 1975 until 2003.

Marietta, Georgia, is most famous for its Big Chicken:


...unless it’s for being the home of this person...

...or perhaps this person.

Many years ago Marietta was known as the home of this person also, and when the old Strand Theater on the square was renovated after having fallen into disrepair for several decades, she and her equally famous husband gave $50,000 to the project.

And now Vagabonde lives there too.

In Marietta I mean, not in the Strand Theater.


I am beginning a drive to have Marietta’s most famous landmark renamed poulet frit du Kentucky in her honor. Send me your contributions and just as soon as I get $50,000 I will approach the city fathers about the possibility.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A milestone of another sort

I often check Feedjit’s little Live Traffic Feed thingy over there in the sidebar to see who is reading the blog, and when I see a flag I haven’t seen before, I save a copy of it.

Yesterday I saved another one and it turned out to be Montenegro. Since I hadn’t counted my flag files in quite a while, I decided to count my flag files.

Adding Montenegro’s flag to my collection brought the number of countries or quasi-countries or entities-that-have-a-flag that have visited this blog to 149. Yes! 149! I don’t think the European Union is really a country, though. But since it does have a flag and even a parliament, when it comes right down to where the rubber meets the road, one can’t be absolutely sure.

I tried to include a montage, a collage, a conglomeration, an aggregation, and even a collection of my little flag files, but my computer refuses to cooperate.

Instead, here, cheek by jowl, is an alphabetic list of all 149 flags that I have copied:

Afghanistan Albania Algeria Angola Anguilla Argentina Armenia Aruba Australia Austria Azerbaijan Bahamas Bahrain Bangladesh Belarus Belgium Belize Bermuda Bolivia Bosnia-Herzegovina Brazil British Virgin Islands Brunei Bulgaria Burkina Faso Cambodia Canada Cayman Islands Channel Islands, Jersey, & St. Helier Chile China Colombia Costa Rica Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador Egypt El Salvador Estonia European Union Fiji Finland France Gabon Georgia Germany Ghana Gibraltar Greece Guam Guatemala Haiti Honduras Hong Kong Hungary Iceland India Indonesia Iran Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Jamaica Japan Jordan Kenya Kuwait Latvia Lebanon Libya Lithuania Luxembourg Macao Macedonia Malawi Malaysia Maldives Malta Mauritania Mauritius Mexico Moldovia Mongolia Montenegro Morocco Myanmar Namibia Nepal Netherlands Netherlands Antilles New Caledonia New Zealand Nicaragua Nigeria Northern Marianas Islands Norway Oman Pakistan Palestinian Territory Panama Peru Philippines Portugal Poland Puerto Rico Qatar Reunion Romania Russia Rwanda Saudi Arabia Senegal Serbia Sierra Leone Singapore Slovakia Slovenia South Africa South Korea Spain Sri Lanka St. Vincent and Grenadines Sudan Sweden Switzerland Syria Taiwan Tanzania Thailand Trinidad and Tobago Tunisia Turkey Tuvalu Uganda Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Kingdom United States of America Uruguay U.S. Virgin Islands Venezuela Vietnam Yemen Zambia

My first thought after ploughing through that list is that there were 204 flags at the London 2012 Olympics, and even that number may not include all of the possible places.

How many of the other 55 (or so) can you name off the top of your head and without consulting a map, a globe, a search engine or a Google-savvy wizard?

I’ll help you get started. Let’s see, there’s Niger and Burundi and Tunisia and Bhutan and Tibet and Ethiopia and Mali and Laos and Paraguay and ....

Maybe 149 doesn’t really qualify as a milestone. Maybe it’s just a place along the route. I’m hoping someone will make it 150 before long

After that, the sky’s the limit. Well, 204 anyway.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A remarkable addendum to 9/11/2001

I have been saying for years that the thing television does best is show human joy and, conversely, human agony. Recently a newspaper also managed to do this.

The Stamford Advocate, a newspaper in Stamford, Connecticut, has published an article and a photograph of a piece of paper that bring the unimaginable horrors of 9/11/2001 down to a personal level. Read the article here, all three pages of it.

Then multiply this story by nearly 3,000 variations on the same theme and it becomes truly mind-boggling.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Anniversary

[Editor's note. This post is a composite of two earlier posts, one from September 2011 and one from September 2009. Having just written negatively of celebrity worship in my last post, I thought it strangely appropriate to find a reference to celebrities in a solemn post written three years ago. --RWP]


My thoughts are somewhat disjointed today, but I am going to try to blog anyway.

Back in the early years of television, CBS-TV had a weekly program called You Are There in which famous historical events were re-enacted as though television reporters had been present at the time. After introducing the event for the week, the announcer would solemnly intone, “All things are as they were then, except YOU ARE THERE.” It was usually quite informative, sometimes unintentionally ludicrous -- at least, I think it was unintentionally -- but always entertaining. History, as they say, came alive.

I thought of that line today as our nation observed the eighth anniversary of what has come to be known, simply, as 9/11. Most of us lived through it in real time eight years ago. We were there, over and over and over, as television brought it to us, and brought it to us, and continued to bring it to us. It was almost too horrible not to watch. We wanted to make sure that it was real, that what was unthinkable had actually happened. The unimaginable had occurred.

I dislike the idea of recalling tragedies because going through them once is enough, but I suppose it is necessary to remind ourselves of what was lost and to educate the young about their own past. In my parents’ generation, the remembered day was December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. For my generation, the events seared into memory are the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, and of both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, the Challenger disaster in 1986, and 9/11 in 2001. Thanks to television, we were there for all of them.

Some people know exactly what they were doing and where they were when they heard that John Lennon had been killed. Some people will feel similarly about the death of Michael Jackson, I’m sure. Some people watch far too much television.

The cult of celebrity is all around us. It’s in the very air we breathe. And although what poet John Donne said is true, that any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, I prefer to save my grief for more important things than the passing of entertainers.

Today, I grieve.



(Photographs above from “Days of Terror” at nymag.com)


(Photographs above from www.theblackday.org by navexpress)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

That’s not entertainment.

I am really out of the loop, not with it, a dinosaur from another generation.

Latest evidence: I couldn’t care less about the links and videos my browser has chosen to put on my home page this week under the category “Entertainment”:

1. Kardashian grilled on personal life -- Gory details: “The View” co-host gets personal with the E! star about her future plans with boyfriend Kanye West. Watch Kim Kardashian’s reaction.

2. Jessica Simpson’s huge weight loss -- Gory details: Jessica Simpson is reportedly down 40 pounds since giving birth to Maxwell Drew in May. Hear how the new mom lost the weight and find out where and when she’s planning to reveal her postbaby body in today’s PopSugar Rush.

3. Katie Holmes gets big deal -- Gory details: LeAnn Rimes is worried Eddie Cibrian is cheating, Katie Holmes is the new face of Bobbi Brown, Camille and Kelsey Grammer’s divorce is close to being settled, Robert Redford’s new film is called The Company You Keep, Lana Del Rey was named the woman of the year by British GQ, all in today’s celebrity gossip.

If you think I’m going to show you these people, you have another think coming.

Maybe you care about celebrities, but I do not. Yet day after day, we have not only the good, the bad, and the ugly, but also the inane and irrelevant force-fed to us by the completely misnamed “entertainment” industry.

I guess things could be worse, though. There could really be gory details. In another era, we would have been watching lions eating Christians; gladiators killing one another with swords; people being crucified, soaked in oil, and set on fire to light the Appian Way at night for the emperor Nero.

Perspective is a wonderful thing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The devil is in the details

Our eighty-something-year-old neighbor Rube, who lives just above us on the hill, sent along a video clip that shows how to get to Mars (6:33).

I knew it was complicated but I had no idea what actually was involved.

Watch and marvel!

So why can’t they do something about traffic?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Help! I’ve fallen into a poetry patch and I can’t get out!

When I Was One-and-Twenty
by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)


When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;

Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.’
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
‘The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;

’Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.’
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.


Abou Ben Adhem
by Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)


Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold: —
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
“What writest thou?” — The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.


Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost (1874-1963)


Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf ’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.


Go To Father
(Anonymous)


“Go to father,” she said
When he asked her to wed.
Now she knew that he knew
That her father was dead,
And she knew that he knew
What a life he had led,
So she knew that he knew
What she meant when she said,
“Go to father.”


Crossing the Bar
by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)


Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Speaking of W. H. Auden...

I posted the following poem of his about four years ago and the time seemed right to post it again. It is perhaps the ultimate epitaph:


The Unknown Citizen
by W. H. Auden


(To JS/07/M/378/
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)


He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.


I wish I could explain adequately why I like this poem so much, but I have never been able to find the exact words. Perhaps it is the sly way Auden thumbs his nose at the notions, current then (1939) and only intensified with the passing of time, that humans exist for the benefit of the state, that individuals must decrease and the collective must increase, that external measurements are all that matter, that we can learn the most important things about a person through a conglomeration of statistics.

In my humble opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.

I said in 2008 that this poem makes me simultaneously melancholy and hysterical (not as in funny, but as in alarming), and my opinion has not changed. The ideas that there is a “right number of children” and that it is laudable not to interfere with one’s teachers’ education and that one can hold “the proper opinions” and that what ought to be one’s strongest belief can so easily be overturned by those in power (“When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went”) make my blood run cold. I find it most ironic that more and more people find the world described in Auden’s poem perfectly normal.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Time marches on

Three of my six grandchildren are now taller than I am, and a fourth nearly is. The oldest one has an after-school job (bagging groceries at a supermarket) and a car (2002 red Jeep Cherokee). The one girl out of the lot is beginning to have curves and attract boys. I wouldn’t trade these years for anything in the world. And yet, and yet....

“Backward, turn backward, O time, in thy flight. Make me a child again just for tonight.”

The author of those words was Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen (1832 — 1911) in an 1882 poem entitled “Rock Me to Sleep”:


Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Chase Akers Allen


Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for to-night!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!
I am so weary of toil and of tears, —
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain, —
Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay, —
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;
Weary of sowing for others to reap; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded, our faces between:
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,
Long I to-night for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures, —
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,
Fall on your shoulders again as of old;
Let it drop over my forehead to-night,
Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with its sunny-edged shadows once more
Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;
Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep; —
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!


In the cold light of day, one has to admit that womanhood’s years (and manhood’s, too) have not been a dream. Sometimes they have bordered on being a nightmare. Some years have been extremely happy. Some years have been anything but.

Not everyone’s childhood was idyllic. Not all mothers are good mothers. Not all fathers exhibit exemplary behavior. People have flaws. No one is perfect. From some parents, children learn exactly what not to do.

We cannot go back and live our lives over again. The past is over and gone. In many ways, the Victorian-era poem is a bit maudlin and even a little creepy. And yet, and yet....

Here is a portion of the poem set to music (4:11)

This post was probably inspired by the fact that yesterday would have been my parents’ wedding anniversary (she died in 1957 and he in 1967) and I am filled with nostalgia.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

All I have is a voice

Seventy-three years ago this week, World War II began. A few weeks later, this poem appeared:

September 1, 1939
by W. H. Auden


I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


I know who Thucydides was but without investigating further I have no clue what mad Nijinsky wrote about Diaghilev. In one sense, this poem is frozen in time and speaks to a particular historical event. In another sense, it is as current as the headlines and newscasts of today.