Midnight to eight I spend with machines,
with their incessant hum, the hubbub and scrape,
the snip-snip, the whine of well-oiled tongues
that winds through the night. I listen to lathes
go round, to mills that peck at each part-piece
like hungry birds, to grinders whose bit-sized
teeth make ultra-fine dust, golden iotas
drawn toward heaven by the drone of a fan.
I nod to this music and think of you
on a steep hill overlooking Morgantown
where you dream all night in your factory
of sleep, creating from each sweet breath
a new instant. Breathing in, breathing out,
working all night, making each now right.
“Midnight to Eight” by David Salner from Blue Morning Light. © Pond Road Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
It's the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., (books by this author) born on this day in Atlanta (1929). He is best known for his work as a leader during the civil rights movement and his commitment to nonviolence. On April 4th, 1967, King delivered a speech called "Beyond Vietnam," in which he strongly denounced America's involvement in the Vietnam War. He was concerned that the war was recruiting poor and minority soldiers, that it was draining resources from much-needed social programs at home, and that it was an unjust war anyway, targeting the poor people of Vietnam. He said, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
Throughout the next year, he continued to speak out against the war, and said that the civil rights movement and the peace movement should come together for greater strength. He began a "Poor People's Campaign" to fight economic inequality. On April 4th, 1968, exactly one year after his first anti-war speech, King was assassinated while he was standing on the balcony of his Memphis motel room. He was preparing to lead a protest march in solidarity with garbage workers who were on strike.
He said, "If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live."
And he said: "Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life's restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men."
The French playwright Molière, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (books by this author), was baptized in Paris on this date (1622). Known as the father of French comedic theater, Molière wrote The School for Wives (1662), Tartuffe (1664), and The
Misanthrope (1666). Although he poked fun at the peasant and bourgeois classes, he was careful to leave the church and the monarchy alone; as a result, he never ran into trouble, he was a favorite of Louis XIV, and he always had work. He collapsed onstage during a performance in 1673; he finished the performance, but died of tuberculosis later that night. Because was no priest around to administer the Last Rites, he couldn't be buried in consecrated ground. After his widow appealed to the king, Molière was buried in the section of the cemetery reserved for unbaptized babies.
Molière, who said, "All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing."
It's the birthday of French courtesan Marie Duplessis, born Alphonsine Plessis in Normandy (1824). She was a beautiful young woman: petite, dark-haired, and slim. She was working as a laundress at the age of 13 when her father decided that prostitution paid better. He sent her to live with a rich and elderly bachelor in exchange for cash. After a year, she went to live with cousins in Paris. For a time, she was kept by a restaurant owner, who gave her a place to live in exchange for her favors. It wasn't long before she set her sights higher. She learned to read and write, and she studied a wide variety of subjects so that she could hold her own in any social situation. She started appearing at places where the rich and powerful were likely to be, and she attracted lots of attention.
She suspected she had tuberculosis when she developed a cough that only got worse. She was treated with everything from spa cures to strychnine to hypnotism. And through it all, she kept dressing up and holding salons and going to the opera. Having grown up in poverty, she couldn't get enough of luxury. Noblemen from all over Europe would call on her whenever they were in Paris, and they brought her expensive trinkets, which she sometimes pawned to support herself between lovers.
She began an affair with Alexandre Dumas the younger when they were both 20 years old. He was a struggling writer, and he wasn't able to give her lavish gifts like her other lovers. He kept her with him out in the country for a while, for the sake of her health, but she missed the lively Paris scene and went back to the city after a year. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore, and broke it off with her, writing in a letter, "I am neither rich enough to love you as I could wish nor poor enough to be loved as you wish."
Duplessis never answered Dumas's letter. She was too ill, and she had begun an affair with the composer and pianist Franz Liszt. She wanted Liszt to bring her along on his concert tour, but he was afraid he would catch tuberculosis from her, so he left her behind. He promised to take her to Turkey one day, but he never saw her again. After she died at the age of 23, Liszt regretted not coming to her bedside, and said: "She had a great deal of heart, a great liveliness of spirit and I consider her unique of her kind. [...] She was the most complete incarnation of womankind that has ever existed."
Four months after Duplessis's death, Dumas published his novel The Lady of the Camellias (1848). It's the story of a courtesan named Marguerite Gautier, based on Duplessis. She breaks the heart of her lover — Armand Duval — to spare him from ruin. Dumas wrote it in four weeks. It was later made into a play, which in turn inspired Verdi's opera La Traviata (1853).