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Grant Gallicho January 24, 2013 - 2:50pm
Two weeks ago, a retired University of Illinois professor discovered a previously unknown poem by Carl Sandberg. You may recall reading a thing or two about its subject.
Full text after the jump.
Here is a revolver.
It has an amazing language all its own.
It delivers unmistakable ultimatums.
It is the last word.
A simple, little human forefinger can tell a terrible story with it.
Hunger, fear, revenge, robbery hide behind it.
It is the claw of the jungle made quick and powerful.
It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision.
It is more rapid than any judge or court of law.
It is less subtle and treacherous than any one lawyer or ten.
When it has spoken, the case can not be appealed to the supreme court, nor any mandamus nor any injunction nor any stay of execution come in and interfere with the original purpose.
And nothing in human philosophy persists more strangely than the old belief that God is always on the side of those who have the most revolvers.
Better than Franco's, at least.
He says it all well, doesn't he?
I thought the quote was, "God is always on the side with the biggest batallions," but I can only find Voltaire's refutation of it regarding shooting straight.Regardless, it is similar to speaking of, "God helps those who help themselves," part of American civil religion of St. Horation Alger and the Prophet Ayn Rand who never manage to see the contributions and positive conditions set up by society to enable one to go so far. What does it mean about the NRA and survivalist militia mentalities that they see such a large need for limitless numbers of guns?What doe it say about them that the famous western marshals were almost all charged with enforcing gun restriction laws in places like Dodge City, where the first requirement to be allowed among "civilized people" was to check your pistol with the sheriff?
from Wikipedia:The phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is a popular motto that emphasizes the importance of self-initiative.The phrase originated in ancient Greece, occurring in approximately equivalent form as the moral to one of Aesop's Fables, Hercules and the Waggoner, and later in the great tragedy authors of ancient Greek drama. Although it has been commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, the modern English wording appears earlier in Algernon Sidney's work.The phrase is often mistaken for a Bible quote, but it appears nowhere in the Bible. Some Christians have criticized the expression as being contrary to the Bible's message of God's grace.
This is the most interesting psychology article I've read in years. It's about a theory of why American high schools produce the kind of people they do. In a nutshell, they instill life-lasting fear in people, a third of whom don't even learn how to read the expressions on other people's faces. (!) The theory applies to Congress too. No doubt it will be controversial, but a lot of it makes sense to me. It's Jennifer Senior's "Why You Never Truly Leave High School".http://nymag.com/news/features/high-school-2013-1/
Revolver?These days that sounds almost quaint. Imagine being able to kill only six people at a time! So inefficient!
And what does God ask us to do for people who cannot help themselves? How about Mt 25:35.
Ann, very interesting article. Ironic that we send kids to school to be "socialized," and the "socialization" is really a construct of their own isolation in the "big box" with people they have nothing in common with. Schools can screw up kids, no doubt.But the flip side is that school is a haven for some kids. The jocks and princesses were a minor irritation compared to the scary stuff my parents were dishing out at the time. Plus I had some wonderful teachers who were encouraging and modeled "normal" adult behavior. I didn't confide personal stuff to them, but I sometimes would look for articles or cartoons and leave them on their desks with little notes. Sometimes they would recommend or loan me books. I never wanted to appear needy (still don't), but the interaction meant a lot to me, more than I realized at the time.
Jean --Yes, teachers can make a huge difference in a kid's school experience. But teachers need sufficient preparation. My problem with teacher certification is that, although they typically learn a lot of psych, they are not required to take ethics. Without at least a basic understanding of the ethical principles found in our culture, kids will grow up thinking might make right -- they will learn that from the bullying in the halls and lunchrooms and playgrounds. True, there are conflicting ethical principles in our culture, but unless kids learn to articulate the differences we will never come to a meeting of minds. And, yes, I think that a lot of ethics can be taught in high school, if not explicitly then implicitly by teacher attitudes and behavior.
It expresses its thoughts in striking fashion. Is it truly a poem? It reads like a quite contemporary thing - it reminds me of those clever, pithy, folksy emails that make the rounds - one of those emails that includes instructions to scroll down to see the punch line. This Sandburg thing isn't dopey like most of those emails are, but it reads as though it is from that genre.
JIm --It's also a series of very effective metaphors which make the minimalist message even more powerful. Kind of like a bullet.
I do not know how Frost went about writing his poetry. I am wondering if this is a first draft of a potential poem. It certainly has figures of speech, such as metaphors, that Frost used in his poetry, e.g., "It is the claw of the jungle made quick and powerful.It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision. "When it has spoken, the case can not be appealed to the supreme court .is a particularly powerful image.However, there is none of the intermittent rhyme that he uses in his poems. Is it truly a poem. If it isn't yet a poem, it is an excellent poetic work of prose and packs a wallop.
Correction: I meant Carl Sandburg.
Now there's a topic for a thread or two or a hundred -- what is poetry? :-)
"Is it truly a poem. If it isnt yet a poem, it is an excellent poetic work of prose and packs a wallop."Helen - yes, exactly. The only thing of Sandburg's that I can recall reading is the Lincoln biography. I don't know where he ranks in the pantheon of American poets, but he was one helluva biographer.
Jim P. --I don't think the critics are greatly enamored of Sandburg these days, but everyone seems to love this little haiku-like poem. The FogThe fog comeson little cat feet.It sits lookingover harbor and cityon silent haunchesand then moves on.
Here is Carl Sandburg on "What's My Line"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UY-tdpsZ5D4
Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
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