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Mark Twain, Pythagoras, poetry, death . . .

I sometimes imagine that I have the soul of a poet, and I would like to believe that my soul is that of a poet, but I do not have a shred of a poet’s talent. My love for poetry began when I first read the lines placed by Mark Twain on the headstone of the grave of his daughter, Olivia Susan Clemens, dead in 1896 at the age of twenty-four. I first read the epitaph as a Junior High School student—now known as Middle School. I was moved to tears, just as I am now while researching and writing this post.

Those words have for many years been attributed to Mark Twain, but they were borrowed from a poem written by Robert Richardson, Annette, published in 1893, three years before Twain’s daughter died. This is the verse Mark Twain placed on his daughter’s tombstone:

Warm summer sun, shine kindly here,
Warm southern wind, blow softly here,
Green sod above, lie light, lie light,
Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.

While writing his autobiography, Mark Twain said that he could not remember the author’s name, and apparently he was uncertain of the exact wording of the poem.
When Twain learned of the author and his work, he added the author’s name to the tombstone without changing the verse. Richardson’s original words are as follows:

Warm summer sun, shine friendly here
Warm western wind, blow kindly here;
Green sod above, rest light, rest light,
Good-night, Annette! Sweetheart, good-night!

The poem, Annette, also included this beautiful verse:

If that ancient ethic view
Of Pythagoras be true,
Your light soul is surely now
In that bird upon the bough,
Singing, with soft-swelling throat,
To the wind that heeds it not;
Or in that blue butterfly,

Flashing golden to the sun.

The ancient ethic view of Pythagoras, mentioned in the above excerpt from Annette, is explained as follows:

The ancient Pythagoreans believed that souls transmigrated into the bodies of other animals, and because of that belief they practiced vegetarianism, hence the poet’s references to the bird upon the bough and that blue butterfly. However, in Richardson’s ode to his daughter he passionately expresses his love for her, his belief in heaven and his hopes for her in the afterlife, saying that:

Somewhere there beyond the blue,
In the mansions that so many are,
They say, is there not
Any one of all, Annette, for you?

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2011 in Childhood, death, Family, funeral

 

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Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Christmas 2010—flowers, rice and chopsticks . . .

Cemetery scene: Having lovingly placed a bouquet of roses at the head of a grave, the visitor to the cemetery watched smilingly as an elderly Oriental man lovingly placed a steaming bowl of rice and chopsticks at the head of a nearby grave, and then asked him at what time he figured his friend would come up to eat the rice. The other man replied, “He will come up at the same time your friend comes up to smell the roses.”

Having set the scene, I will continue with this posting. On this cold blustery day in San Antonio, Texas I traveled twelve miles from my home to Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I placed fresh flowers on the grave of a great lady that was transported from this earthly realm to her just reward in God’s heavenly realm on the evening of Thursday, November 18, 2010 just one month and eight days before her seventy-ninth birthday. Our three daughters were present at her death, at her memorial and her interment, but unforeseen circumstances prevented them from being with me to visit her on this day.

Today is my wife’s birthday. She was born December 26, 1931 on an icy Saturday in a small south Georgia town. We met in 1952 and were married just four months later on a Saturday afternoon on the thirteenth day of December in 1952, and we completed fifty-eight years of marriage thirteen days ago on the thirteenth of this month, December of the year 2010.

To complete the fifty-eight years of marriage I included the days between her death on 18 November and our wedding anniversary date of 13 December. I included those days because we remain married and will always remain married, albeit on a spiritual level rather than on a physical level.

We are separated physically but our spirits are intertwined, an inextricable unity that will never be separated. I refuse to allow our marriage to dissolve simply because we exist in separate realms. Her spirit—her soul—has returned to God from whence it came. She is in heaven with Him and I remain on earth. I am well aware that adherence to our marriage vows will be more difficult for me than for her, but I readily accept the challenge and I will not falter.

I still wear my wedding ring on the ring finger of my left hand, and when I join my wife in the grave that contains her earthly remains—the same grave that will contain mine throughout eternity—that ring will still be in place.  If it should be lost I will replace it, and if that replacement is lost I will purchase another, as many times as necessary. I also wear my wife’s 1949 high school graduation ring on the little finger of my right hand. That one will be a bit more difficult to replace, but I will make the effort should it happen.

Yes, in the same grave—with space at a premium in our national military cemeteries, husbands and wives share the same burial plot. I have no problem with that procedure, nor does my wife. We have discussed it at length over the past several years, and we agreed with the premise that the closer, the better. And on the subject of matter, the contents of our grave constitute mortal material matter only, as do the contents of every grave.

The immortal essence of that matter—the soul, given by the grace of God—was never there, having already gone to its promised reward before the remains were placed beneath the sod—its direction dependent, of course, on certain requirements having been met, a point that should be foremost in how we decide to live our lives.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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The day after Christmas, 2010 . . .

Yesterday was December 25, the Year of Our Lord, 2010. That day was Christmas, the day that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, hailed, revered and worshiped by Christians as the Son of God and the savior of mankind, One of the Christian Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It was the seventy-eighth Christmas of my life, and the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife near the mid-point of the past century—1952.

I spent all but five of those 58 holidays with my wife. On Christmas Day in 1961 and 1962 I was in West Germany helping my country during our cold war with the Soviet Union, a war that ended in a cold stalemate. That stalemate continues to this day under different names and titles. I was in South Viet Nam on Christmas Day in 1970 and 1971, helping our country lose the war against North Viet Nam.

Just as an aside, I spend Christmas Day in 1950 and 1951 helping our country lose another war, the one ineptly labeled the Korean conflict, a conflict that cost more than 40,000 American lives over four years of fighting, a conflict that ended in a stalemate that exists to this day. Apparently stalemates run in our national history.

Yesterday was the fifty-eighth Christmas since I met and married my wife, the love of my life. It was only the fifth Christmas that I did not spend with my wife and my family. My wife died last month on the eighteenth day of November, and I spent most of yesterday alone in the house we have lived in for the past twenty-two years, alone with the furniture, decorations, artwork, various collections and photographs, my wife’s clothing and other personal articles, and our memories we accumulated over the past fifty-eight years of our marriage.

I spend most of Christmas day at home, but I accepted an invitation to enjoy a Christmas dinner with one of my three daughters and her family that live nearby. Earlier in the day I visited my wife at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery. I had planned to place a beautiful plant that our neighbors to the west, the finest next-door neighbors in existence, brought over as a Christmas gift, a beautiful poinsettia. I wanted it to grace my wife’s grave, and I intended to tell her how kind and thoughtful the neighbors were to give us the plant.

I wanted to believe—no, I did believe—that she would know the flowers were there. I realized that the plant would last longer in the home than in the open, subject to heat and cold and lack of moisture, but I felt that its brief life in the open would be better than watching it age and wither in our home—frankly speaking, I do not have a green thumb, and it’s a given that any potted plant will not last long under my tutelage.

I visited my wife without the poinsettia. My previous perfectly plotted perverted poinsettia plan (I really do love alliteration) was abandoned when I stepped outside to check the weather . The air was bitterly cold and a strong blustery wind was blowing, and I realized that the tall poinsettia plant would be lying flat and frozen even before I left the cemetery. I decided to let the plant remain in the home and take its chances with me, with the firm resolve to take flowers to my wife the following day, December 26, the day of her birth in 1932.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, but I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2010 in death, Family, flowers, funeral, Military

 

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Re–post: Dear Abby poem, a letter from those beyond . . .

The letter that follows below is from my original posting dated November 25, 2009, entitled Dear Abby poem, a letter from beyond . . . Click here to read the original post. I am re–posting it now for the benefit of a recent subscriber to my blog, a nephew, the first of two sons born to my sister. His mother was the penultimate—the second to the last—family member to shuffle off this mortal coil. I am the ultimate, the last of seven children born to our mother and father and the last one still standing.

The poem below appeared in the San Antonio, Texas Express-News daily on Sunday, July 11, 1993, in Dear Abby’s column. It’s a moving message from one and all that, as voiced by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, have shuffled off this mortal coil, and is for us a solemn reminder of our own mortality.

These are the words of Hamlet:

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause.

Several years after her husband died, I sent this letter to my sister:

July 11, 1993

Dear Sis,

It’s Sunday morning here and I just finished wading my way through the Sunday issue of San Antonio’s Express-News. This poem was in Dear Abby. I know it’s very sad, and I know it won’t be easy for you to read. But I’ve read it over and over and I found that, at least for me, it becomes more uplifting and less sad with each reading. It was untitled, so I guess we are supposed to furnish our own title.

Nice touch, that. We can simply leave it untitled, or we can dedicate it to someone or something we’ve loved and lost, whether it be a person or pet or place or idea. Or we can title it We are not dead and attribute the poem to be from all those we’ve loved and lost.

Whether the voice of one or the voices of all, and regardless of the title, the poem must give us pause:

Do not stand at my grave and weep;

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow;

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain;

I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

When you awake in the morning’s hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft star that shines at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;

I am not there. I did not die.

In the seven months since I posted the poem it has garnered ten votes, all excellent, but no viewer has taken the time to post a comment. I realize that many of us, perhaps most, are reluctant to focus our thoughts on those that are no longer with us, but when they are in our thoughts they are not dead—they live, if only for a brief moment, and the finest tribute we can pay is to never forget—always remember.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!


 
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Posted by on June 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Ode to a cheesecake . . .

In the winter of 2009 during the heavy snowstorms in and around Washington, D.C., an incident occurred in Alexandria that generated several postings on Word Press. Pending their annual Chocolate Party my son-in-law, the one that’s married to my daughter that lives, loves and works in Virginia, buried a huge cheesecake in their backyard flower garden under two feet of snow, an interment necessitated by the lack of storage space in their refridgeraterrefrigereter—refrigeretar. Oh, damn it, in their icebox!

Click here to read my daughter’s explanation of the unprecedented backyard burial.

I composed a rather brilliant poem—well, somewhat brilliant—well, at least it rhymes—and used it to comment on the incident. That comment, unlike the cheesecake arisen from the grave, remains buried under an avalanche of postings by my daughter. I am resurrecting it, bringing it up from and out of the Stygian darkness of the nether world of comments and into the bright light of day for others to enjoy.

Because I took the liberty of borrowing a few words and phrases from several prominent writers and using them in my poem—horribly fractured, of course—I humbly offer my abject apologies to the preacher John Donne, to the poet Joyce Kilmer, to my favorite author Henry David Thoreau and to my daughter in Virginia, the author of An apology to the wood anemone.

I also apologize to visitors to my blog—I apologize in advance for wishing a pox on those that do not visit, and a double pox on those that visit and fail to comment on my postings. Finally, I apologize for making so many apologies—I cannot help myself—it’s something I cannot control. I apologize often in an effort to dodge or divert or at least minimize criticism—it’s in my nature—mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa maxima.

Please note that I freely admit that I apologize far too often, but I am thankful to report that it’s one of only two faults. In addition to the fault of copiously apologizing, I am also modest to a fault. Sans apologies and modesty, I would be perfect!

Ode to a cheesecake

Breathes there one with soul so dead
That never to one’s self hath said
Methinks that I shall never see
A word so lovely as anemone.

Offed from my tongue it rolls
Sadly as the bell that tolls
Not for thee and not for me
Nor for the lovely anemone.

But for the cheesecake in its bower
Not ‘neath trees nor plants nor showers
Nay, ‘neath snowstorms full of power
Lying beneath the snow for hours

In wait for the chocolate party
To be eaten by goers hearty.

But wait, what’s that I see
Beside the cheesecake ‘neath the snow
The anemone arises ready to go
With the cheesecake to the table

Petals eight to be divided
‘Mongst the diners so excited
A ‘nemone to see.

They smell the petals
They hear the bell
They’ll come to know
As time will tell

If snow and cheesecake
Sounds their knell
Or leaves them alive
And well.

— H.M. Dyer (1932-     )


I neglected to give credit to Sir Walter Scott for his poem The lay of the last minstrel in my Ode to a cheesecake—credit is now given. I also neglected to say that I loved your poem An apology to the wood anemone—well done! Your cheesecake arising from the snow is reminiscent of Thoreau’s Walden in which he tells of a golden bug that in the spring gnawed its way out of a table after being entombed in the wood for many years.


 
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Posted by on May 22, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Barbara Frietchie and Robert E. Lee . . .

In January of this year I sent an e-mail containing John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, Barbara Frietchie, to a friend that lives in Alabama. She acknowledged receipt of the e-mail and replied as follows:

Wow! What a beautiful story of pride, loyalty and courage! Thank you for sharing this poem. I’m sending it on to several of my friends up in Northern Virginia.

She also asked who commanded the troops that entered Frederick, Maryland during the War between the States—I use that title because as yet I have learned nothing about the war that could be considered civil.

I responded to my friend with this e-mail:

Subject: Barbara Frietchie . . . . .

The troops in Whittier’s poem were General Robert E. Lee’s Confederates, led by General Stonewall Jackson. I was introduced to Barbara Frietchie in elementary school—not the real Barbara, just the poem—somewhere around the fourth grade. I’ve forgotten most of the poem, but for some reason these two verses took root: Shoot if you must this old gray head . . .  and, Who touches a hair of yon gray head . . .

And now for the benefit of anyone not familiar with the poem, here it is:

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 the 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 Barbara Frietchie 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!

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892)

Some final notes:

Given the present demographics of Maryland, Barbara Frietchie could well have been an African-American. Could be—so much of our history is being rewritten that anything is possible (click here for George Orwell’s 1984). Future research online may find that the lady that made the first flag was an African-American—whether true or untrue, that would become part of our revisions of American history.

If the revisions continue, eventually George Santayana’s time-worn statement that Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it will take on new meaning—learning and repeating revisionist history will do little to advance civilization and our standing in the world order.

If I fail to learn history and I am doomed to repeat it, I prefer to repeat the history of the founding of our nation. I do not wish to fail to learn and repeat history that has been revised, and in the revision process has cast aside many of our basic values, and distorted and diluted others.

That’s my opinion—what’s yours?

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Speaking English not good for you . . .

One of my three princesses, the one that was privileged to come into the world ahead of her two sisters, the one I love more than the other two but don’t tell them—yep, that one—sent me an e-mail with the following series of questions and answers concerning the importance of diet and exercise on health.

I felt obligated to spread this doctor’s take on diet and exercise as far and wide as possible. It’s an anonymous piece of writing, so I’m not too worried by the fact that I took the liberty of making numerous changes to the original. And I must say, with the usual humility that my viewers normally expect from me, that those changes improved the document significantly—nay, they improved it immeasurably!

What follows is a series of questions, asked by a patient and answered by Doctor Sum Ting Wong, the patient’s doctor during the two years the patient spent in China:

Q: Doctor, is it true that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life?

A: You heart only good for so many beats and that it. No waste beats on exercise. Everything wear out eventually. Speeding up heart not make you live longer. It like saying you extend life of car by driving faster. Want to live longer? Take nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat, and eat more fruits and vegetables?

A: You must grasp theory of logistical efficiency. What do cow eat? Hay and corn. And what that? Vegetables. Steak nothing more than efficient mechanism to deliver vegetable to system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef good source of field grass, and field grass green leafy vegetable. And pork chop give you 100% of recommended daily allowance of protein.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A:  No, not at all. Wine made from fruit. Brandy distilled wine.That mean they take water out of fruit so you get more. Beer and whiskey also made of grain. Bottom up!

Q: How can I calculate my body fat ratio?

A: If you have body and you have fat, you ratio one to one. If you have two body, you ratio two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?

A: Sorry, can’t think of single one. Philosophy is, no pain—good!

Q:  Are fried foods bad for us?

A:  You not listening! Food fried these day in vegetable oil. It permeated by vegetable oil. How much more vegetable bad for you?

Q:  Will sit—ups prevent me from getting soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise muscle it get bigger. Only do sit—up if want bigger stomach.

Q:  Is chocolate bad for me?

A:   Helloooo! Bean of cocoa plant is vegetable! Chocolate best feel-good food can find!

Q:  Is swimming good for my figure?

A:  If swimming good for figure, explain whale to me.

Q:  Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?

A:  Hey—round is shape!

This should help clear up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets, and remember this:

Life should not be a journey from the cradle to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, a tall glass of Chardonnay in one hand and dark chocolate in the other, with body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “Woo-hoo, what a ride that was!”

And for those that watch what they eat, here’s the final word on nutrition and health—it’s a great relief to know the truth after all these conflicting nutritional studies:

Japanese eat very little fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Mexicans eat lots of fat and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Chinese drink little red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Italians drink lots of red wine and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Germans drink lots of beer and eat lots of sausages and suffer fewer heart attacks than we do.

Conclusion: Eat and drink whatever you like. It’s obvious that speaking English is what kills you.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2010 in death, food, grammar, Humor

 

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