Friday July 31, 2015

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Never give all the heart

Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.

“Never give all the heart” by William Butler Yeats. Public Domain.  (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the woman Teddy Roosevelt once called "the most dangerous woman in America" when she was 87 years old. Mary Harris Jones, or "Mother Jones" (books by this author), was born to a tenant farmer in Cork, Ireland, in 1837. Her family fled the potato famine when she was just 10, resettling in Toronto. She trained to be a teacher and took a job in Memphis, where on the eve of the Civil War she married a union foundry worker and started a family. But in 1867, a yellow fever epidemic swept through the city, taking the lives of her husband and all four children. A widow at 30, she moved to Chicago and built a successful dressmaking business — only to lose everything in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Jones then threw herself into the city's bustling labor movement, where she worked in obscurity for the next 20 years. By the turn of the century, she emerged as a charismatic speaker and one of the country's leading labor organizers, co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

She traveled the country to wherever there was labor struggle, sometimes evading company security by wading the riverbed into town, earning her the nickname "The Miner's Angel." She used storytelling, the Bible, humor, and even coarse language to reach a crowd. She said: "I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I said if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator." Jones also had little patience for hesitation, volunteering to lead a strike "if there were no men present." A passionate critic of child labor, she organized a children's march from Philadelphia to the home of Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay, New York with banners reading, "We want to go to school and not the mines!" At the age of 88, she published a first-person account of her time in the labor movement called The Autobiography of Mother Jones (1925). She died at the age of 93 and is buried at a miners' cemetery in Mt. Olive, Illinois.

She said: "Whatever the fight, don't be ladylike."

It's the birthday of writer Primo Levi (books by this author), born in Turin, Italy (1919.) He came of age when Mussolini was in power and, as was expected, he joined the movement for young Fascists as a teen. He was fascinated by science and graduated with a degree in industrial chemistry, but his diploma listed him "of Jewish race," and he was unable to find work in his field. Two years later, his family was forced to flee Mussolini's forces and he joined the partisan resistance. His group was taken prisoner, and on February 21, 1944, he and 650 other Italian Jews were transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz. When the camp was liberated by the Red Army almost a year later, Levi was one of only 20 of that group who survived.

A year after returning home, he met and fell in love with his future wife, Lucia, when she offered to teach him to dance at a New Year's Eve party. She also encouraged him to take up writing and he began to document his experience in the camps. He found work at a paint factory, but rather than commute he stayed at the plant during the week and used the quiet time at night to draft his first novel, If This Is a Man. A small press published it in 1947, but 10 years later, it had only sold 1,500 copies. Levi worked with a translator, and in 1958, the book was released in the U.S. under the title Survival at Auschwitz. He followed with books of poetry and more memoirs, including The Periodic Table (1975), which traced his family history using the chart of elements. London's Royal Institution voted it one of the greatest science books ever written. Levi visited more than 130 schools in his lifetime to talk about his experience during the Holocaust. He was deeply concerned with people's ability to remain passive in the face of injustice.

He said: "Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are [those] ready to believe and act without asking questions."

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