Category Archives: Arts – Poetry

Video Treat of the Week: “Song of Myself,” Stanza 5

From the far out West, up against the curling, capricious lip of the Pacific, comes a dispatch from our Coastal Ocean & Fire Correspondent, Mitchell Santine Gould.

With it is a stunning animated setting of Stanza 5 from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, a keystone of the poet’s classic Leaves of Grass.

Mitch is a longtime student and celebrant of Whitman, and as we’ll see, does not lack deep artistic talent himself. His work deserves more attention, and will get a small measure of that here.

Mitch animated this stanza, and one can only begin to imagine how fabulous future installments might be.

The animation is only three minutes plus.

Yet in those brief moments it evokes much of Whitman’s continuing appeal and mystery: his modest origins, comfort with nature in all its aspects,

unabashed sensuality, human warmth, and easy, encompassing untheological mysticism.

From Stanza 5:

Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.
If I may be pardoned a sectarian aside, Whitman overlaps at many points with Quakerism, though he did not join. As a youth he heard and was fascinated by the then-radical preaching of Elias Hicks; later, although not subject to the military draft in the Civil War, he spent many months doing an unofficial noncombat service in military hospitals, especially with gravely wounded and dying soldiers; he wrote essays in tribute to Hicks and George Fox; and more — which Mitch has been exploring and documenting for many years. (One small key chapter of it, from Quaker Theology, is here.)
And I can’t close without slipping in an unanimated addition, the next, sixth stanza of Song of Myself, which sticks in my memory perhaps more than any other:

Song of Myself 6

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them, soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

[The full text of Song of Myself is here.]

Thanks, Mitch — send more!

Ukraine, War Notes: The End of Euphoria, A Shift in The Odds

Washington Post: Ukraine is running out of ammunition as prospects dim on the battlefield

Hopes that Ukraine will be able to reverse Russian gains are fading in the face of superior firepower

By Siobhán O’Grady, Liz Sly and Ievgeniia Sivorka

June 10, 2022 – ET
SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — The euphoria that accompanied Ukraine’s unforeseen early victories against bumbling Russian troops is fading as Moscow adapts its tactics, recovers its stride and asserts its overwhelming firepower against heavily outgunned Ukrainian forces.

Newly promised Western weapons systems are arriving, but too slowly and in insufficient quantities to prevent incremental but inexorable Russian gains in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, which is now the focus of the fight.

The Ukrainians are still fighting back, but they are running out of ammunition and suffering casualties at a far higher rate than in the initial stages of the war. Around 200 Ukrainian soldiers are now being killed every day, up from 100 late last month, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky told the BBC on Friday — meaning that as many as 1,000 Ukrainians are being taken out of the fight every day, including those who are injured.

The Russians are still making mistakes and are also losing men and equipment, albeit at a lesser rate than in the first months of the conflict. In one sign that they are suffering equipment shortages, they have been seen on videos posted on social media hauling hundreds of mothballed, Soviet-era T-62 tanks out of storage to be sent to Ukraine.

But the overall trajectory of the war has unmistakably shifted away from one of unexpectedly dismal Russian failures and tilted in favor of Russia as the demonstrably stronger force.

Ukrainian and U.S. hopes that the new supplies of Western weaponry would enable Ukraine to regain the initiative and eventually retake the estimated 20 percent of Ukrainian territory captured by Russia since its Feb. 24 invasion are starting to look premature, said Oleksandr V. Danylyuk, an adviser to the Ukrainian government on defense and intelligence issues. Continue reading Ukraine, War Notes: The End of Euphoria, A Shift in The Odds

Oscar Wilde – On His Release From Prison

Today, May 19, is when Oscar Wilde was released from prison in Reading England. That was in 1897.

Once the darling of literary London and high society, Wilde’s brilliant career had been destroyed by a scandal involving young male prostitutes and a prosecution he largely brought on himself. Wilde had served two years of hard labor for “gross indecency”; he would live two more years, exiled in France, broken and broke, dying there in November of 1900.

Usually I remember Wilde by his seemingly endless bon mots and glittering, cynical quips, which like the fantasy of Dorian Gray, never get old. But today I remember him for The Ballad of Reading Gaol, the extended poem he wrote after his imprisonment, about the toll it took on his spirit as well as his body.

Somehow it seems to be a better fit for the mood of these days. And if we get through them, the sparkling epigrams and jokes will still be there, waiting for us, if we are able recognize and enjoy them.

From The Ballad of Reading Gaol, his last published work, written in France.

I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.. . .

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

Sun painting, May 2022

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
“That fellow’s got to swing.”

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

I only knew what hunted thought
Quickened his step, and why
He looked upon the garish day
With such a wistful eye;
The man had killed the thing he loved
And so he had to die. . . .

Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,
In a suit of shabby grey:
His cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay,
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every wandering cloud that trailed
Its raveled fleeces by. . . .

But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother’s life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.

This too I know—and wise it were
If each could know the same—
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim. . . .

In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
Eaten by teeth of flame,
In burning winding-sheet he lies,
And his grave has got no name.

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
In silence let him lie:
No need to waste the foolish tear,
Or heave the windy sigh:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

. . . The loftiest place is that seat of grace
For which all worldlings try:
But who would stand in hempen band
Upon a scaffold high,
And through a murderer’s collar take
His last look at the sky?

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!

. . . There is no chapel on the day
On which they hang a man:
The Chaplain’s heart is far too sick,
Or his face is far too wan,
Or there is that written in his eyes
Which none should look upon.

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,
And then they rang the bell,
And the Warders with their jingling keys
Opened each listening cell,
And down the iron stair we tramped,
Each from his separate Hell.

Out into God’s sweet air we went,
But not in wonted way,
For this man’s face was white with fear,
And that man’s face was grey,
And I never saw sad men who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners called the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by. . . . .

 

Ferlinghetti: A Birthday & A Favorite Beatnik Poem

According to Garrison Keillor, March 24  was “the birthday of the poet, publisher, and bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti, born in Yonkers, New York (1919). . . .
He went to college at the University of North Carolina and then joined the Navy during World War II, where he was the commander of a 110-foot ship. . . . Continue reading Ferlinghetti: A Birthday & A Favorite Beatnik Poem

Whittier: “In War Time”

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).

 

“In War Time”

Anniversary Poem

Somewhat revised

               Read before the Alumni of the Friends’ Yearly Meeting School, at the Annual Meeting at Newport, R. I., 15th 6th mo., 1863. [Written during another war, it resonates with a current one, and is edited here to highlight those echoes.]

 

ONCE more, dear friends, you meet beneath
A clouded sky:       

Not yet the sword has found its sheath,
And on the sweet spring airs the breath
Of war floats by.

 Yet trouble springs not from the ground,     Nor pain from chance;      

The Eternal order circles round,
And wave and storm find mete and bound
In Providence.

 Full long our feet the flowery ways
Of peace have trod,           

Content with creed and garb and phrase:
A harder path in earlier days
Led up to God. Continue reading Whittier: “In War Time”

Free Quaker Music from Songster/Theologian Doug Gwyn: Now Online

Writing Quaker history & theology is not exactly the road to fame and fortune.

But a few still take it, and among those of the passing generation, one that I most admire  is Douglas Gwyn, who is always Doug to me.

One reason for admiration is that Doug has produced some outstanding work. My favorite is his book, Personality and Place,  which I consider his masterpiece (and reviewed at length here).

He calls the book a “theological history” of Pendle Hill, the Quaker center near Philadelphia which has been a main crossroads and watering hole for Friends for nearly a century.

Douglas Gwyn; aka “The Brothers Doug”??

In a style that is always gentle but nonetheless relentless, he charts Pendle Hill’s evolution/devolution from being (as the first sign at its entrance declared) “A Center for Religious and Social Study”, to serving as what a recent board member sadly decried as “a navel observatory.” Gwyn convincingly shows how Pendle Hill’s trajectory mirrors and illuminates a “modern” and “liberal”  Quakerism sliding largely into decadent, self-absorbed conformity and irrelevance.

But important as his written work is, book reviews are not our subject here.  I want instead to pay tribute to Doug’s other “career,” that of a singer/songwriter, which he has pursued for almost as long as his scholarship.  Maybe longer, since he retired from theology in 2017, and is still busy with music five years later.

Doug hasn’t pursued music-making for money, except for an early stint managing a blues-oriented coffee house called “The Morgue” on the Indiana University campus, and selling the odd cassette. He began writing songs in the late 1970s, and has often performed, but mostly for coffee house-sized groups at Pendle Hill or other such venues. As he explains, he’s done most of his recording himself:

My first attempt at multi-track recording was during the summer of 1999 at Pendle Hill. My friends, Peter and Annie Blood-Patterson, well known folk singers and producers of the Rise up Singing songbook, lent me their four-track recorder and effects box. I spent hot summer nights with the windows closed (to keep out the roar of crickets and katydids) and the loud air conditioner turned off, sweating profusely as I learned how to overdub harmonies and vocal sound effects along with my faltering guitar and singing. The recording persona “The Brothers Doug” came out of that experience.

And several albums later, he’s made his music available to the world, on a dedicated website: https://brothersdoug.me/free to listen to and download. On the site he’s included (by my count) 103 songs, and he’s ditched their copyrights for what he calls “commonrights,” making them part of the general wealth of untrammeled creativity.

Many of his early songs had Quaker references, often satirical and sometimes trenchant, such as “A Process In the Wind,” “That of Odd in Everyone,” and “Making Quakers from Scratch.” He’s also unafraid to aim at his own vanity, as in “Hair Envy,” which laments the erosion of his own coiffure (“Why Do I Love Your Hair? Because . . . It’s There.”

One of his sharpest Quaker satires was “Pendle Hill Revisited.” In a way it prefigures in compressed rhymes his book “Personality & Place”. (BTW, the tune here is that of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”:

Bill woke up and said to his wife,
honey, I’ve got to change my life!
Where can I find that higher path,
with courses that don’t require math?”
His wife said, “Let me think for a minute, Bill–
one thing will help (if anything will),
try spending a term at Pendle Hill!

Bill enrolled and had the time of his life,
He finally got round to calling his wife:
He said, “My dear, I’ve found myself,
It’s drying now on the pottery shelf.”
His wife said, “I’m so glad for you, Bill,
Come home for Christmas and review your will,
Then spend another term at Pendle Hill!

Next thing he knew, the year was up,
Joy overflowed sweet William’s cup.
He said, “I’ve got to stay somehow,
I’m on a roll, I can’t stop now . . . .
[So yes, you guessed it, our old Friend Bill
Spent the rest of his career at Pendle Hill . . .]
Bill’s last years were in managed care,

Still trying to learn that centering prayer,
Till death took Bill out on a date,
And he met St. Peter at the pearly gates.

St. Peter said, “Should I let you in, Bill?”
Bill said, “Hell, do what you will,
I’d rather be at Pendle Hill!”

And on moonless nights you’ll find him still,
Along the path at Pendle Hill.”

Many of Doug’s newer songs are more philosophical than theological, though the distinction is often fuzzy. Not a few have an apocalyptic cast, “The Other Shoe”:

Well we all know that the climate is changing,
If we care to admit it or not,
We take positions on the same condition,
But we all know what we’ve got.

Ooo-ooo-ooo,
We all know something’s got to give,

Oh, yes we do,
But Who? And Why? And What?
While we wait, for the Other Shoe–
To drop . . . .

This near-term gloomy outlook fits his scholarly background (Doug’s dissertation, which became his first book, Apocalypse of the Word, published in 1986). They also have increasing echoes in the social, environmental & political currents of our era.

One I like that straddles the line is “FAQ,” which consists entirely of questions:

FAQ
October 2018

How did we get here? How soon can I go?
Are you for real? How would I know?
Where did that come from? What’s your excuse?
Is it just me? What’s there to lose?
Refrain: FAQ, frequently asked questions,
FAQ, frequently asked questions . . . .

Where is the restroom? How much is enough?
How will the end come? Which end is up?
Does he still love me? How much does it cost?
Why did she do that? Could we be lost?
FAQ, frequently asked questions,
FAQ, frequently asked questions . . . .”

But one question that he has answered with glee involves letting go of a lot of what he grappled with for so long, and his song about it brings a smile to the faces of many who are, or are nearing, a certain age:

Well, I’ve been hired, and I’ve been fired,
I’ve jumped through every hoop required,
Til my sell-by date expired,
And now

My very soul is tired.

So I’m putting on that cardigan sweater,
And I’m already feeling better —
Baby, I’m retired!”
(He’s retired, baby.)

On the website, there are 103 songs, including twelve written just last year.

Now, giving away your music resembles doing Quaker theology in one respect, namely that it’s not a road to riches either.

But Doug is already a wealthy man in a lot of other ways, if you ask me: several good books, a quiet life in Social Security simplicity, in his home state, and with access to low-cost technology that makes both his writing and music widely accessible, for those who seek it out, and many more should.

And this is not the first time Doug has shown that, contrary to popular wisdom, there can be a free lunch, at least intellectually/spiritually.

On Christmas 2015, with a little assistance from this blog, Doug posted an entire book, Words In Time, including many of his best essays on Quakerism and its discontents, as an absolutely free download.

NOTE: To read or download this book, you click on the link.

You do NOT sign in.
You do NOT pay. (Not now. Not ever.)
You do NOT leave your name or email address.
(And since we won’t have your name or email, we won’t sell it or trade it or send you stuff or do anything else with it. Because –did we mention? — we won’t have it.)

Here are the pieces you’ll find in this book. Most are otherwise very hard to find:

Part I: Covenant

1. The Covenant of Light
2. Renewing Our Covenant: Can Our Branches Be Olive Branches?
3. Sense and Sensibilities: Quaker Bispirituality Today
4. The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism
5. Can’t See the Covenant for the Contracts

Part II: Seed

6. The Seed: The Power of God Among Us
7. “Sink Down to the Seed”: Going Deeper in Quaker Life and Witness
8. The Seed: Captivity and Liberation

Doug said about Words In Time, when it was first published:
This book is a collection of short pieces, most of which have appeared in print elsewhere. They cover a nine-year period, 1988-97. I chose the title Words in Time because several of the pieces were written for particular occasions, and address specific dilemmas facing Friends at the time. As such, these keynotes and essays are somewhat time-bound and situation-specific. For example, “The Covenant of Light” addressed Friends United Meeting shortly before the “Realignment” controversy erupted at the end of 1990. But problems of alienation and mutual exclusion within the wider Quaker family continue; the message of reconciliation still needs to be heard.

[Thee Can Say THAT Again! Okay, he will: But problems of alienation and mutual exclusion within the wider Quaker family continue; the message of reconciliation still needs to be heard.]
Doug continued:

All the pieces in this collection attempt to place current Quaker struggles within a larger context. The rootstock of our Quaker tradition, in its unique expression of the ancient Hebrew- Christian faith, can provide important perspective on today’s dilemmas. In particular, two themes encompass this collection: covenant and seed.

The wonderfully inventive cover of one of Doug;s first cassette “albums.”

One more song i want to mention, which is in the collection:  Here’s the concluding verse:

Yonder stand those Quakers
on the far side of the back of beyond
misfit mystics, a boil on the bum of Babylon
they’re too few to make much difference
too peaceful to break many laws
an endangered species of spiritual life
practiced in the art of lost cause.

Yonder stand those Quakers
singing “We Shall Overcome”;
yonder stand those Quakers

God help those poor fools carry on
God help those poor fools carry on

“The irony here,” Doug says, “is that the song adopts the perspective of someone in the cultural mainstream, pondering Friends from the outside.  We Quakers sometimes forget how odd we can seem to others . . . In spite of the song’s cynical tone, the bemused observer still affirms, “God help those poor fools carry on.”

Doug’s music, like much of his writing, also energizes me. And theological Quaker folksongs?

Why not? Better than a lot of the field’s product.

Whittier’s 214th Birthday: The Peace-loving Quaker War Poet

It’s Whittier’s birthday.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) is now mostly thought of as a very old-fashioned conventional poet, who can be dispensed with in light of modern notions of verse and literary values.

But I think such a dismissal misses a big point which should give us pause today:

Whittier was also a very public Quaker  who lived through the years when American democracy fell apart in the cultural conflict over slavery, and was only salvaged after four long and extremely bloody years of civil war, with an  aftermath not yet  concluded.

And while Whittier did not take up arms in the war, he was still active and vocal throughout, as he had been for years before the fighting began.

The weapon he took up was his poet’s pen. That’s what he was: a poet. And poets can go to war in their own way, like others.

He wrote poems, many of which were widely circulated, in service of the cause of abolition, for which the war ultimately was fought. So whatever the lasting literary value of his work, it remains an example of turning one’s gift and calling to work in one’s times.

So  for his birthday, when deep cultural strife haunts the land again, here are three of his poems, which might, if we can see past our pedantic prejudices, be useful for reflection and encouragement in facing our own time of trials.

One: A Fiery Prelude
A sketch of Pennsylvania hall, afire.

Written for and read at the dedication of Pennsylvania Hall, Philadelphia, May 15, 1838. The building was financed by donations, and erected after most churches and halls in Philadelphia refused to host abolition meetings. Whittier said it was built so  “that the citizens of Philadelphia should possess a room wherein the principles of Liberty, and Equality of Civil Rights, could be freely discussed, and the evils of slavery fearlessly portrayed.”

While the poem imagines a distant future time when slavery was banished, Pennsylvania Hall’s future was extremely short: On May 17th, two nights after the poem was read there, it was burned by a mob, Whittier said, “destroying the office of the Pennsylvania Freeman, of which I was editor, and with it my books and papers.” Lucretia Mott, another supporter, had also spoken there and was pursued by (but escaped from) a proslavery mob.

Pennsylvania Hall (excerpts)

And fitting is it that this Hall should stand
Where Pennsylvania’s Founder led his band,.
From thy blue waters, Delaware!— to press
The virgin verdure of the wilderness.

Here, where all Europe with amazement saw
The soul’s high freedom trammelled by no law;
Here, where the fierce and warlike forest-men
Gathered, in peace, around the home of Penn,
Awed by the weapons Love alone had given
Drawn from the holy armory of Heaven;

Where Nature’s voice against the bondman’s wrong
First found an earnest and indignant tongue;
Where Lay’s bold message to the proud was borne;
And Keith’s rebuke, and Franklin’s manly scorn!

Fitting it is that here, where Freedom first
From her fair feet shook off the Old World’s dust,
Spread her white pinions to our Western blast,
And her free tresses to our sunshine cast,
One Hall should rise redeemed from Slavery’s ban,
One Temple sacred to the Rights of Man!

Oh! if the spirits of the parted come,
Visiting angels, to their olden home;
If the dead fathers of the land look forth
From their fair dwellings, to the things of earth,
Is it a dream, that with their eyes of love,
They gaze now on us from the bowers above?

Lay’s ardent soul, and Benezet the mild,
Steadfast in faith, yet gentle as a child,
Meek-hearted Woolman, and that brother-band,
The sorrowing exiles from their “Father land,”
Leaving their homes in Krieshiem’s bowers of vine,
And the blue beauty of their glorious Rhine,

To seek amidst our solemn depths of wood
Freedom from man, and holy peace with God;
Who first of all their testimonial gave
Against the oppressor, for the outcast slave,
Is it a dream that such as these look down,
And with their blessing our rejoicings crown?

Let us rejoice, that while the pulpit’s door
Is barred against the pleaders for the poor;
While the Church, wrangling upon points of faith,
Forgets her bondsmen suffering unto death;
While crafty Traffic and the lust of Gain
Unite to forge Oppression’s triple chain,

One door is open, and one Temple free,
As a resting-place for hunted Liberty!
Where men may speak, unshackled and unawed,
High words of Truth, for Freedom and for God.

And when that truth its perfect work hath done,
And rich with blessings o’er our land hath gone;
When not a slave beneath his yoke shall pine,
From broad Potomac to the far Sabine . . .

Then, though this Hall be crumbling in decay,
Its strong walls blending with the common clay,
Yet, round the ruins of its strength shall stand
The best and noblest of a ransomed land —
Pilgrims, like these who throng around the shrine
Of Mecca, or of holy Palestine!

A prouder glory shall that ruin own
Than that which lingers round the Parthenon.
Here shall the child of after years be taught
The works of Freedom which his fathers wrought;
Told of the trials of the present hour,
Our weary strife with prejudice and power;

How the high errand quickened woman’s soul,
And touched her lip as with a living coal;
How Freedom’s martyrs kept their lofty faith
True and unwavering, unto bonds and death;
The pencil’s art shall sketch the ruined Hall,
The Muses’ garland crown its aged wall,
And History’s pen for after times record
Its consecration unto Freedom’s God!

Two: A Campaign song from 1860

Whittier was a political abolitionist and a supporter of the new, antislavery Republican party. In fact, as the presidential campaigns peaked in the 1860 election, he penned a shamelessly partisan campaign lyric, celebrating favorable political news from Pennsylvania.

The song was written for a Republican mass meeting held in Newburyport, Mass., October 11, 1860.

The Quakers Are Out

NOT vainly we waited and counted the hours,
The buds of our hope have all burst into flowers.
No room for misgiving—no loop-hole of doubt,—
We’ve heard from the Keystone! The Quakers are out.

The plot has exploded—we’ve found out the trick,
The bribe goes a-begging; the fusion won’t stick
When the Wide-awake lanterns are shining about,
The rogues stay at home, and the true men are out!

The good State has broken the cords for her spun;
Her oil-springs and water won’t fuse into one;

The Dutchman has seasoned with Freedom his kraut,
And slow, late, but certain, the Quakers are out!

Give the flags to the winds! set the hills all aflame!
Make way for the man with the Patriarch’s name!
Away with misgiving—away with all doubt,

For Lincoln goes in, when the Quakers are out!

Three: A Ballad of war

With Lincoln’s election, war soon followed. Then, in 1863, Whittier heard a tale about an alleged confrontation in Frederick, Maryland, when a large Confederate rebel force passed through a Maryland town enroute to a major battle nearby. He spun it into stanzas that “went viral” on the new telegraphic internet, and were long repeated after the war had ended:

Barbara Frietchie
Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.
Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple- and peach-tree fruited deep,
Fair as a garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,
On that pleasant morn of the early fall
When Lee marched over the mountain wall,—
Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.
Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,
Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.
Up rose old then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;
Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;
In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.
Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.
Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced: the old flag met his sight.
“Halt!”— the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
“Fire!”— out blazed the rifle-blast.
It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf;
She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country’s flag,” she said.
A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman’s deed and word:
“Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!” he said.
All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:
All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.
Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;
And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.
Barbara Frietchie’s work is o’er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.
Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall’s bier.
Over Barbara Frietchie’s grave
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!
Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;
And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

Largely forgotten now, the poem’s fame endured long enough that when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the house in 1943 with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Churchill is said to have recited all 30 couplets by heart.

Critical Race Theory & Me: It Could be Verse

Doggone it, the new Texas law banning the teaching of critical race theory came too late to help me.

I’m particularly sorry to miss the mandate that educators avoid anything that might end up making anyone “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

Because discomfort, anguish and other  psychological distress is sure enough what I felt after spending an hour with one of the most successful teachers I ever had, Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark.

It was December 9, 1964. Mrs. Clark was then a member of Dr. Martin Luther King’s executive staff, his inner circle. She had an office in his headquarters suite in Atlanta.

I was a brand-new recruit, called a subsistence worker, earning the grand wage of $25 per week.

Randolph Blackwell

I had told Dr. King’s chain-smoking office manager, Randolph Blackwell,  that I was a writer, who could churn out copy on demand. I had done that in college back in Colorado, for the yearbook and the campus newspaper.

Blackwell said they needed some copy churned out, to keep up with the hurly burly of news.

And news there was. That was the month when Dr. king headed to Oslo to collect the Nobel Peace Prize.  And, I soon learned, he and his staff were almost ready to launch a voting rights campaign in Alabama. Continue reading Critical Race Theory & Me: It Could be Verse

Three Selma Poems — Alabama 1965

On Meeting Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark─ Atlanta, December 9, 1964

 

On Meeting Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark─ Atlanta, December 9, 1964

I sit down quietly in the chair, The older woman smiles and light

Reflects off frame glasses and gold rose earrings, the voice

Is like, is like the whisper of tires on a faroff nighttime highway Or maybe that of a Negro woman of sixty-six

Which it is.

She inhales to speak, I raise

My fine young journalistic pen, prepared to summarize Her story into ink traces,

To finish my entry blank in the Biographical Sweepstakes: “Tell us, in 150 words or less,

The substance of her life”; I am, of course, confident─

The smile fades back into equilibrium, and she says calmly: “My Father was a slave.”

I see, yes─the pen moves to the paper: M-Y-F-A-T-H-E-R-W-A-S-A-S-L-A─

Ahh, ha ha ha,

No, something isn’t quite right, She didn’t even blink.

Voice steady

My Father─

Hands quiescent in her lap My Father─

Breathing is regular My Father─

Oh no.

You see, my father was a normal, middle-class guy like every- body else,

You understand that don’t you Mrs.–

My Father was

Yes, Yes, I know, but surely you can understand the difference was only superficial, just an accident of history that yours happened to be

─a slave (why in hell won’t she blink)

Well it was his own damn fault, wasn’t it─after all he must have known the Truth, because

My Father was

The Good Book, you know, says that

Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you─

─a slave.

Say that’s kind of a clever twist there Mrs.─ Ahh, ha ha ha. …

Lay down your pen and sniffle for shame, boy─ You there, the intellectual snot-nose,

Mucus running from your pen and you With the cheek to call it ink.

But then, you have been to a university

and so of course you know all about slavery

You even wrote a thousand-word paper on it (for extra credit, that is)

“… basically a part of the economic system, the indispensable

supply

Of cheap labor for the harvesting of the cotton crop.. ”

But you missed the chapter in the non-required readings about

how to face a calm old woman who can look you in your smooth white face and say

My Father

And not even blink you say could you talk just a little slower please ma’am

I didn’t get that last part your father was a what

─a slave.

Just like my father except for one or two of those little accidents of History, heh heh

My aren’t we an educated magnanimous liberal christian, boy─ Go to the rear of the class, get out the dictionary and look up

the following six words,

then write for the next three hundred years after school is

out on the new whiteboard with the black chalk the following sentence which you may have run across some where in your supplementary extracurricular living:

My father was not a slave, That’s it, only at the end,

Put a question mark.

Mrs. Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987)

 

SELMA STREETS – February, 1965

by Charles Fager

Here along the Selma streets Old men like tree stumps, Young men like defaced pillars,

Whiskers and hair grease and dirty overalls, Keeping impassive hopeless vigils,

Fraying edges on society’s old, but not discarded clothes.

I spring upon them, a dangerous animal, Dressed in new overalls and enthusiasm, Hands full of transmigrated dynamite caps:

ONE MAN-ONE VOTE the caps read,

They offer no resistance when I pin the explosives on reluctant lapels, But then, of course, they never have.

“Come on down to the courthouse, come on come on… Nobody’s gonna hurt ya………………. ”

I’m right of course, nobody’s ever gonna hurt them anymore, but that’s not what I’m talking about, not even what I’m thinking….

“Yeah, OK (they don’t say Boss Man or Mr. Charlie (thank God?)), sure, “Ah’ll be downnere inna fewww minuss, sure

“Inna fewww minussa, sure “Inna feww, sure

“Suresuresuresuresu”

Heads nod, graying whiskers flicker in and out of shadow, but the eyes say Go away go away, please now just go ahead on away;

The eyes look around me, over, beside, through, but not at, because I don’t Really exist, can’t exist, mustn’t exist (I’m thinking about

socioeconomic factors, the effects of a political aristocracy,

the philosophy of dynamic nonviolence and, of course, the existential value of

the local Negro religion, yes, professor, you see, as I explained fully in the footnote on page 47 of my thesis and as we can clearly see from MacElvain’s quite valuable remarks on the subject……….. ).

The walk back up to the listonclay cafe seems longer than when I came down the street, perhaps because the ragged lines of men (Children of what God?)

The sure, yeah OK men still are standing there, New buttons still offending their lapels,

Eyes still looking, perhaps now a bit more carefully, over, under, around and through,

Then at me when I’m past, but I see them doing it (go away go away go away) Words to an unsung spiritual, prayer of the nonchurchgoers, the Movement of Those no longer able to move.

Into the cafe, darkness and dirt, filthy flannel figure bending

Across the counter, observing the half-full beer glass as if

It held the answer and maybe it does; I spring again FREEDOM NOW button poised “Come on down to the courthouse fella, come on come on,

Nobody’s gonna hurt ya, whattsa matter, are ya afraid of losing your job–

(I am of course ready with my arguments to show that one must have courage, one must not be afraid to risk everything, one must)?”

But when he turns these eyes upon me (not over, under, around or through) and whispers, says, “Ain’t got no job,”

And turns back to the more understanding beer glass, Filthy flannel in the dark and dirt,

Only my mouth continues, throwing up a smokescreen until I can

Get away, away, get away quick, outside and past the

Dying tree stumps, defaced and crumbling pillars,

Glances at the periphery accusing me: you there, boss man,

How do you, O young white man of faith, deal with the substance of Things Hopeless, the Evidence of the Things that are Seen;

But I just walk on in my new overalls, and think of socioeconomics, And don’t say anything.

 

 

UNTITLED – SELMA, MARCH 1965

 

The trooper car is, of course, waiting when you get back to your car:

“Hey you” (flashlight beam, reflections off uniform brass, neck hairs fluorescent in headlight glare) “where you think you’re goin?”

To freedom. To heaven (to hell?) To anywhere. To–

“To the church.” (clear your throat quickly so your voice doesn’t falter) Yes, of course: to the church.

“Lessee your identification and the registration on that car… ”

Pull out the wallet and start the charade, let them examine your driver’s license etc., with extreme and exaggerated care, of course they have to get on the radio and check the car out through

Birmingham, outside agitators are an unsavory lot and it’s more than likely stolen;

But while you’re standing there, looking carefully off down the

nighttime street, notice the other trooper looking at you intently, intently:

“Where you from, Charles?” (listen to the question: something rings in it besides antagonism, there is more than one query in the words; look up at him quick, how can you answer without exposing the concealed questions?)

“Well (you want to say give me thirty seconds to think over my answer(s) at least)–“

“What,” interrupts the other trooper, “does that button mean?” and he points:

GROW--white letters on black background, Get Rid Of Wallace, what else, but you won’t say that, you don’t need to get beat up tonight, and besides you know that he asked it because he too heard some (not all) of the other questions

in his partner’s voice; so you have to answer him satisfactorily without letting it tear down the little bridge the other has extended.

“Well GROW refers to the philosophy of the whole movement

…” etc., etc., and so on, it’s hard, but the other trooper is still peering so the bridge is still there.

“MmmminmHhmmmm,” the questioner says; he of course

knows what it really means, but your straightfaced baloney throws him temporarily off balance.

Silence in heaven (and earth) for the space of about half an hour (minute). Then–

“Where’d you say you were from?” Listen again:

Reach out:

“Well, I was born” (yes I hear you) “and then we went” (can you give me your hand?) “and after that we” (just for a moment) “when I finished college–“

He nods a little and you know he heard; so did the other, and his guard is up:

–“Why don’t you get a good job back where you came from, and quit messin’ around down here?”

It was too good to last……. Just try to retreat with dignity and

without burning the bridge’s remains….

“Yeah, there’s other ways to settle this than in the street,” the other, his guard also now up, joins in. . .

There isn’t any answer for this, so just look down at the muddy street.

He hands you back your license and finishes up the charade: “Tell your boss to get some identification on this car, and we’re

Not letting anybody into the church. Only the sheriff could do that.”

Copyright © by Chuck Fager

 

A Carolina Poet for Juneteenth: George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton: A Biographical Sketch & several poems; from local sources

George Moses Horton

George Moses Horton (1797-1893) could rightly be called North Carolina’s first professional poet.

George Moses Horton,

Born enslaved by  Chatham County yeoman farmer William Horton, young George Moses Horton loved the rhyming sounds of hymns, and yearned to be able to read. As teaching slaves to read was illegal, Horton secretly taught himself, hiding in fields on Sundays. He used an old speller, a copy of the Methodist hymnal, and stray pages from the Bible, although he was grown before he learned to write. Especially fascinated with poetry, he was soon composing psalm-meter verses in his head and committing them to memory.

Young Horton was often sent to Chapel Hill by his then-master, James Horton, to sell produce at the farmer’s market. There his unusually sophisticated vocabulary soon caught the attention of the university students, who encouraged his orations, and ultimately, the recitation of his own verse.

His reputation spread, and by the 1820s, he began to sell poems for students to send to their sweethearts, charging extra for including acrostics in them based on the young ladies’ names. Continue reading A Carolina Poet for Juneteenth: George Moses Horton