Last Saturday I watched the funeral service for Senator John McCain at the National Cathedral. I really tuned in because I wanted to hear President Obama’s eulogy, but I was soon drawn in by the beauty and dignity of the ceremony. The music was magnificent, particularly John Rutter’s setting of The Lord is my Shepherd and Renee Fleming’s Oh Danny Boy. Several speakers mentioned McCain’s love of literature, but I could not have been more surprised by his choice of a reading from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The chosen passage was from As Kingfishers Catch Fire beginning with the line “the just man justices.” One rarely hears mention of Hopkins in public life in America and Continue reading “My Love Affair with Gerard Manley Hopkins”
The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus is a poem written in 1883 to help raise money for a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. In 1903 it was mounted on the pedestal on a bronze plaque. Though beloved by Americans for over a century, the poem no longer reflects the America in which we live today.
I propose this new version as more in the spirit of the times:
The Great Again Colossus by Emma Mortifer
Not like the woman of New York harbor fame,
Who welcomed desperate migrants to our land;
Here at our brutal border wall shall stand
A bloated, boastful bigot, one whose flame
Is destroyer of truth and justice, and his name
Con-Man in Chief. From his puny hand
Tweet hate and lies; his heartless eyes command
This Land of Immigrants that twin oceans frame.
But “Keep, ancient lands, your worthless horde,” cries he
With pouting lips. “I banish your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
Your wretched refuse shall not infest our shore.
Send them, the suffering children, unto me,
And they shall rot in cages outside our golden door!”
Our boat slowed and began to circle the little island in the lake. Then over the loudspeaker came the voice of our captain, George, reciting the W. B. Yeats poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. We were circling that very island. We were in Yeats country, “the land of heart’s desire” around Sligo in the west of Ireland. This was just one of the magical moments we experienced in my first visit to my paternal grandparents’ country. And George was just one of the marvelous characters we met who made Irish history Continue reading “In Yeats Country”
At a dinner party in Berkeley some years ago I met a visiting history professor from the University of Leuven in Flanders. Naturally I told him I am half Flemish. When I tell people that they usually just assume that the other half is English. But the professor didn’t assume. “What’s the other half?” he asked. When I responded “Irish” he reared back in mock horror and said “Goodness, what a volatile combination!” My family has had a few laughs over that ever since, blaming our volatile combination for any number of sins.
In consequence of this heredity Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Turning Tides”