Sunday, August 1, 2010

Some minor, century-and-a-half-year-old news

Watching the network news this past week, I found the line-up rather depressing. The news often would start out describing how Democrats remain inept. (Remember Mark Twain's comment to the effect that "I'm not a member of an organized party. I'm a Democrat.") Then would come another example of Republicans' on-going problem with being brain dead. This would be followed by news that the Gulf disaster is intractable, people remain freaked about Arizona's immigration law, and the economy might be tanking again. Somehow, the final half of the programs, focusing on "people making a difference," and so on, really didn't help a hell of a lot.

With this unhappy news in mind, I turned to my complete "Poems of Emily Dickinson." She's my buddy. It has been said that Dickinson's 1,700 or so poems can be divided as: one-third not so good, one-third pretty good, and one-third wow. Many of the not-so-good poems can be called not so much poems, as aphorisms - adages, so to speak.

Regarding the Arizona law, not long ago I noted that as a young girl, Dickinson parroted her elders in bemoaning the "invasion" of the Irish. Yet, at her death in 1886, she directed that six Irish servants be her pallbearers. (Her brother, appalled, quickly named six upstanding Amherst citizens as her "honorary" pallbearers." But I wondered: When did this change come about?

This evening I stumbled on one of Dickinson's "minor" poems. It was early in 1864. The Civil War still raged, it's outcome uncertain. Dickinson was 34 years old. She had recently traveled to consult an eye doctor. In Boston. Her "aphorism" went like this:

"These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me -
Befriend them, lest yourself in Heaven
Be found a refugee"

Hmm. Maybe I need to watch more of those "people making a difference" segments.

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