seems to need us
Rainer Maria Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.
“The World Has Need of You” by Ellen Bass from Like a Beggar. © Copper Canyon Press, 2014. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It was on this day in 1950 that North Korea invaded South Korea, beginning the Korean War. Most of the actual combat occurred in the first year of the war, but it dragged on and on. Truce negotiations began in 1951, and they were the longest truce negotiations in the history of warfare, lasting two years and 17 days, with 575 meetings between the opposing sides. Dwight D. Eisenhower ran for president in 1952 on the platform that he would end the war, and when he was elected that’s what he did.
The Korean War was the first war the United States had concluded without success. There were no celebrations when it ended. More than 3 million people lost their lives, and many years later, an American veteran named Harold Richards wrote: “I was not brave, nor was I a hero in any way. I was just as scared as anyone else under fire ... I took part in five major battles and two invasions. I suffered the cold of North Korea along with every GI during the northern campaign. There were so many unsung heroes of that war, only men there could understand.”
Today is the birthday of English novelist, essayist, and critic George Orwell (books by this author), born Eric Arthur Blair in 1903 in Motihari, British India. In childhood, Orwell was an avid reader, but a neglectful student: his parents decided he would be better off testing for a position on the Indian Imperial Police force. He chose a posting in Burma, where he was responsible for the security of more than 200,000 people and where he first started to see the consequences of poverty and oppression. It was in Burma that he began a physical, as well as political, metamorphosis: he grew a mustache and had a small blue circle tattooed on each knuckle, something the Burmese natives did to protect against bullets and snake bites. He contracted dengue fever and returned to England to recuperate in 1927, deciding to resign his post and become a writer. He used his experiences in Burma for his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Resolving to write about poverty in England and the “down and outers who inhabit it,” he began dressing as a tramp and living among the lower classes and the destitute, penning strident essays under the pen name P.S. Burton. He ended 1931 by getting drunk and trying to get himself jailed so he could write about it, but his state of drunkenness was deemed “insufficient” and he was sent home. The essays formed the basis of the book Down and Out in Paris and London(1933).
For a few years, he continued to write essays, while working as teacher and at the Booklovers’ Corner, a second-hand bookshop. He joined the Spanish Civil War and got shot in the throat by a sniper. In his essay “Why I Write,” he said: “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art.”
In the early 1940s, Orwell began work on a novel about a group of farm animals who decide to stage an uprising against their tyrannical farmer called Animal Farm (1945). It was published near the end of the war, and became an international sensation. Then came the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, about a man losing his identity while living under a repressive regime.
It’s the birthday of best-selling children’s author and illustrator Eric Carle (books by this author), born on this day in Syracuse, New York (1929). He has written and illustrated more than 70 books, including Do You Want to Be My Friend? (1971), The Grouchy Ladybug (1977), and his most famous,The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969), which has sold almost 30 million copies.
And it was on this day in 1942 that Dwight D. Eisenhower became the commander of the U.S. troops in Europe. He had been a military man for more than 20 years, but he’d never seen combat. All he’d ever done was train soldiers. He would go on to become supreme commander of the entire Allied Armies in Europe, and he helped plan many of the major offensives during the European theater of the war, including D-Day.