When You Are Feeling Outnumbered

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Today is Veteran’s Day, commemorating the end of the War to End All Wars. If you don’t know much about World War I, I strongly recommend two books: Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, nonfiction about how we got from the end of 1910 through the first 30 days of the war; and Jeffrey Shaara’s, To the Last Man, a fictional account that shows how people from the bottom to the top of the military and political establishments throughout Europe on both sides made the devastating and heroic and deadly decisions that the war forced on them

War is a bizarre human endeavor that brings out the worst and the best of the people engaged in it on both sides. And our poets help us make sense of it. So in the troubled days ahead of us now (please, God, not including war), when you feel embattled and outnumbered, remember what Shakespeare gave us in Henry V, Act IV Scene III: 18-67.

 

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
.
KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.

.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.

.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.

.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”

.
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.

.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered–
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Happy Birthday, Musashi

 

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So today Musashi, my animal companion, turns eight years old. This is as old as he’s ever been, though he would be the first to tell you that I am “way olderer” than him, as in “like elebenty.”

Meanwhile, in other news, a blizzard has just come in on little cat feet and is threatening to drop a foot of snow on much of Southern New England, particularly our little part of it, Boston. Boston public schools, Northeastern University, Episcopal Divinity School, Emerson College, Brandeis University, New England Conservatory—just to name a very few—have closed for the day. But not MIT, in part because not Harvard. Sigh.

On His Eighth Birthday, Musashi Poeminates

Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war. –Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

 

Cry havoc! And let slip the cats of winter,

Chasing the icy wind across parking lots,

Down streets, up trees into the branches

That only months ago wore leaves like green

Fur. February, that month cruelest to those of us

Who never spell easily, tightens its grip,

With every flurry a kitten ready and willing

To ravage your toes with her tiny claws.

 

Havoc is coming. The schools all know it,

The big men who drive the snowplows all

Know it, the bus drivers for whom havoc is

A daily burden, they know it too. And I,

Lying reflectively in my turquoise catbed,

Contemplating the existential drift, I too

Know the true havoc that is the lack of my

Housekeeper, soccer partner, butler,

 

Just because she has mad writing skills

And her school, like a German Shepherd

Facing off with a Rottweiler, all growl

And lack of poetry, refuses to accept

How weather makes fools of us all

Sometimes. The snow comes down,

An unfurling of fluffy white cats, stretching,

Shedding, everywhere, and all day.

Mu with String

Photo by Jack Siberine.

 

The Pearl of English Poetry

Most people know what a sonnet is because in addition to simply hearing about them in English class, they are exposed to lots of examples from Shakespeare and even get to watch Snoopy act out Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous “How Do I Love Thee” on Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown (1975):

There are basically two rules to sonnets, depending on whether you take the English/Shakespearian or the Italian/Petrarchan:

  1. Fourteen lines in iambic pentameter (five feet, with each foot an unstressed and then a stressed syllable)
  2. Rhyme scheme: English ababcdcd efefgg OR Italian abbaabba cdecde

Note that both types have an octet (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines); these are generally used as a sort of problem/solution setup. This how Sherman Alexie can get away with calling this next example a sonnet of sorts. If you know the format, you get the joke.

Steamed Rice

Whole Wheat Bagel

Egg White

Baked Chicken

Tomato Soup

Broccoli

Cheddar Cheese

Garlic Clove

Grape Nuts and Non-Fat Milk

Almonds

Appleß

Ice Water

Insulin

Hypodermic

Alexie, Sherman. The Summer of Black Widows. New York: Hanging Loose Press, 1996.