A Woman’s Way

A woman named Alice Duer Miller was born 141 years ago today.  She was a woman’s suffrage activist and during her time, a very popular poet. Miller was also novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and (with Dorothy Parker) one of the two female members of the famous Algonquin Hotel Round Table, that “Vicious Circle” of writers, critics, actors, wags and gladflies who met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel in the 1920s and ‘30s

ADMillerHer first novel, Come Out of the Kitchen, published in 1916, was a best-seller. Soon afterward, in addition to writing more novels, she became a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post, McClure’s, and Scribner’s magazines. Many of her stories were turned into movies such as Roberta (1935), a musical with Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Irene (1940), another RKO musical.

Her most famous work is The White Cliffs, a verse novel published in 1940 that also showed up on film, as The White Cliffs of Dover, again starring Irene Dunne, along with Van Johnson, Elizabeth Taylor and many others. The film transformed one of England’s most recognizable landmarks into a reassuring symbol of hope during the WW2 years.

Miller campaigned for women’s suffrage and her mightiest sword was the written word. She published a series of satirical poems in the New York Tribune that were later published as Are Women People? in 1915, five years before women were granted the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It is probably as the suffragist poet that Alice Duer Miller is best remembered. Her Are Women People? poems were thought to be clever and brilliant during her day. I am not sure how they are viewed by contemporary readers, nor how her non-feminist poetry is critically appraised. I suspect most of it is considered undistinguished. I am a poor judge of poetry myself. I only know what I like, and I have always thought the best poems are the simplest ones, not simple in meaning but in language, for as Walt Whitman said, “Simplicity is the glory of expression.”

“The Way” is a term used quite frequently in Buddhism and here at The Endless Further. This is Alice Duer Miller’s short, simple and expressive take on The Way:

The Way

There is a magic pathway through the wood,
There is a current in the troubled stream,
A happy course to steer, if one but could,
A meaning to the dream.

And some in love and some in dogma find
The hint eternal as they kiss or pray;
Some through the crystal circle of the mind
Discern the way.

And some no hint, no pattern of the whole,
Nor star, nor path, nor channel can perceive –
Attempt no answer to the questing soul,
And yet believe

There is a magic pathway through the wood,
There is a current in the troubled stream,
A happy course to steer, if one but could,
A meaning to the dream.

Alice Duer Miller

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Deathfugue

Most of you will read this tomorrow, but as I write, it is still January 27, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. In actuality, Auschwitz was a network of camps – concentration camps built to hold and torture political prisoners, trade unionists, others whom the Nazi’s had no use for, mostly Jews, and extermination camps designed and constructed to kill, Jews mostly.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As we now live in an time where we are witness to crimes shockingly reminiscent of those atrocities from the World War II era, it is important that we do not forget Auschwitz, that we remember the Holocaust.

One of the most powerful, electric literary works created by a Holocaust survivor to help us remember is a poem by Paul Celan titled Deathfugue. I posted this poem once before and included some background information with that entry, so I will not repeat myself. Instead, today, the lines are accompanied by a poster I made based on the poem.

black_milk

Paul Celan’s Todesfuge or “Deathfugue”:

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink it and drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are flashing he whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you in the morning at noon we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you others sing now and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Sulamith he plays with the serpents
He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then as smoke you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in the air
He plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master from Germany

your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

Translated from German by Michael Hamburger

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Thich Nhat Hanh, Slavery, and Phillis Wheatley the Slave-Poet

According to Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hahn’s condition remains stable. As I reported several weeks ago, he experienced a severe brain hemorrhage on November 11 and has been hospitalized ever since. Evidently, the hemorrhage has slightly reduced in size, and while edema is still present, it has not worsened.

The latest press release states, “Thay continues to rest peacefully with the ticking clock on his pillow, and we sense that he is relying on his deep awareness of breathing, rooted in Store Consciousness, to guide his healing process.”

Thich Nhat Hahn had been invited to participate in an event organized by the Global Freedom Network, on December 2 at the Vatican. Leaders of the world’s major religions came together to sign a common declaration condemning slavery and to “call on the United Nations to end human trafficking and slavery globally.”

Thay was represented by a delegation of 22 monks and nuns. His prepared speech read by Sister Chan Khong, his first ordained monastic disciple.  An excerpt:

In this age of globalisation, what happens to one of us, happens to us all. We are all interconnected, and we are all co-responsible. But even with the greatest good will, if we are swept away by our daily concerns for material needs or emotional comforts, we will be too busy to realise our common aspiration. Contemplation must go together with action. Without a spiritual practice we will abandon our dream.”

In November, Walk Free, a partner of The Global Freedom Network, released a report saying “Slavery still grips tens of millions worldwide.” 35.8 million to be exact, a shocking number. Slavery in defined as “the systematic deprivation of a person’s liberty, and abuse of their body for personal or commercial exploitation.”

Tomorrow, December 6, will mark the 149th anniversary of the ratification by the states of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States of America. Although President Lincoln’s 1863 final Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves held by the Confederate States, it and the previous proclamations were but first steps in the process of freeing all slaves.

Just as the Emancipation Proclamations are important human rights documents, so too are the poems by a woman named Phillis Wheatley, and one in particular, from 1772, a poem that “provides readers with an emotional appeal of slavery, forcing readers to evaluate their views on the institution of slavery.” * When she composed the poem, Wheatley was herself a slave.

She was born in Africa, captured and sold into slavery as a child. In 1761, she was purchased by John Wheatley of Boston. He soon recognized Wheatley’s intelligence and she was taught to read and write by his 18 year-old daughter, Mary.

Phillis Wheatley became well known for her poetry, and was not only the second published African-American poet but also the first published African-American woman.

In October 1772, she was asked to write a poem for William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, who had just been appointed secretary of state for the colonies. The poem is entitled “To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth,” and the 3rd verse reads,

phillis-wheatleyShould you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?

Phillis Wheatley was freed on October 18, 1773.

You can read the entire poem and more of Wheatley’s work at the Poetry Foundation. Read more about Phillis Wheatley herself at Biography and Wikipedia.

And make sure you go Global Freedom Network to sign the declaration to end slavery once and for all.

– – – – – – – – – –

* Phillis Wheatley Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) Jamie Baldwin and David Townsend Candidates, Master of Arts in English Education Department of English & Theatre University of North Carolina, Pembroke

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Eleanor Roosevelt and Tibet

This is the final installment of my trilogy of posts about the Roosevelts and Buddhism. Although the connections are rather slight, I feel they are intriguing. As I wrote on Sept. 30, the primary link with Buddhism for Franklin and Eleanor was Tibet.

In 1923, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote an article titled “The Women of Tibet.” I have not been able to find the piece or gather much information about it. There is, though, a rather well known quote from the article that biographers take to be a subtle jab at husbands (hers in particular) and their “betrayals.”

It has been brought to my attention that the wives of Tibet have many husbands. This to me seems a good thing, since so many husbands have so many wives.”

eleanor-roosevelt2 It is true that Tibetan tradition allowed a man or woman several spouses (most Tibetan marriages are monogamous nowadays). I suspect though that this information, and nearly everything Eleanor knew about Tibet came to her second-hand, because as far as I can determine she did not ever visit there, although she went to India in 1952. Of course, she was no doubt very aware of the dispute between Tibet and China since that had been an issue FDR had to deal with early in his administration.

In the 1950s ER became an ardent supporter of the Tibetan struggle for freedom. She wrote about the Tibetan situation a number of times in her “My Day” syndicated newspaper column (published 6 days a week from 1935 to 1962, the year she died).

Earlier that decade she exerted influence that went beyond simply trying to mold public opinion. In a book on Theos Casimir Bernard, the self-proclaimed “White Lama,” Paul G. Hackett reports that “Acting along the line of one of the suggestions made by Eleanor Roosevelt years earlier, the CIA decided to train and arm Tibetan fighters from Kham (Eastern Tibet), who had already gained notoriety for their fighting against the Chinese.” Even though something she had said was the genesis of the plan, apparently ER was unaware of this action taken by the Eisenhower Administration.

In October 1959, the Dalai Lama’s brothers came to the United States to speak before the United Nations. ER met with one brother, Gyalo. She wrote about their meeting in her Oct. 16 column in which she also expressed these thoughts:

I am glad that the situation is being brought before the U.N. and I hope that the nations of the world will give help to these refugees and bring the weight of world opinion to bear on the entire situation. Only thus can peace come to Tibet and the traditional ruler returned in peace and be allowed to try to work out the problems of modernization and contact with the outer world, which now becomes necessary in spite of the remoteness of the people in that country.

It points up to us that there is no area of the world that is remote any more and that all of us are going to feel whatever happens, no matter how far away it is.

Five days later, on October 21, 1959 the UN passed a resolution calling “for respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life.” Eleanor Roosevelt urged the Chinese to appear before the UN to “justify [their] actions before a world body.”

Eleanor_Roosevelt_and_Human_Rights_Declaration2Well, some interesting tidbits about a very interesting woman . . .

What is most interesting, and remarkable, about her is that when people think of Eleanor Roosevelt, it is not just for her role as an exceptional and transformational First Lady, but also for her outstanding achievements in promoting universal human rights and peace. She was our country’s first delegate to the United Nations and chaired the committee that drafted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document praised by many, also criticized by many, but which Roosevelt herself said “may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.”

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

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The Bull Moose and the Buddhist

I’ve been watching The Roosevelts An Intimate History on PBS this week. I have DVR’d each night’s installment but am a couple of nights behind, so what I have seen so far has dealt mostly with Theodore Roosevelt, an energetic and immensely vital man, with a few disturbing sides to his very large personality.  Not to put too fine a point on it but he was a war monger, and he sometimes lived recklessly out of a need to constantly prove himself.

TR in 1917
TR in 1917

When America entered WWI in 1917, a 58 year-old, half-blind Roosevelt went to then-President Woodrow Wilson and offered to not only raise a division of volunteers but to also lead them into battle.  It was absurd and Wilson declined the offer.  Speaking of TR after their meeting, Wilson said “He is a great big boy. There is a sweetness about him. You can’t resist the man.” One of Teddy’s nicknames was “Bull Moose” because he was the founder of the Bull Moose Progressive Party. It was an apt description of the man.

I am always interested to see if figures like that have any connections with Buddhism. I did some research on my own and found out that Teddy had a Buddhist bud! In fact, they were close friends. The documentary mentions that at one point TR became interested in jujitsu. The person who introduced him to that martial art was a man named William Sturgis Bigelow, a long time friend who often entertained TR in his Boston home. Bigelow was a doctor, graduated from Harvard Medical School, who lived in Japan for seven years to study Buddhism, and became a collector of Buddhist and Oriental art.

In 1908, Bigelow gave a lecture at Harvard titled “Buddhism and Immortality” that was later published. It is a lengthy piece full of the rather stilted language of the time. Buddhist thinking from Westerners during this period is always a mixed bag. Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don’t. In this short paragraph from the lecture, Bigelow closes in on the former:

William Sturgis Bigelow in Japan, c.1884.
William Sturgis Bigelow in Japan, c.1884.

Consciousness is continuous. Therefore, there is but one ultimate consciousness. All beings are therefore one; and when one man strikes another, he strikes all men, including himself. Just when and where and how in terms of space and time he feels his own blow depends on circumstances, but sooner or later he will. A good deed comes back to the doer in the same way.”

You can read the entire lecture at Archive.org and learn more about TR’s BBF (Best Buddhist Friend) at the Bigelow Society

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