November 5, 2004 I Did not Die

For nigh on seventy years, few knew from where this little known bit of verse, had come.

In the early 1930s, Mary Elizabeth Frye was a Baltimore housewife and amateur florist, the wife of clothing merchant, Claud Frye.

A young Jewish girl was living with the couple at this time, unable to visit her sick mother in Germany, due to the growing anti-Semitic violence of the period.  Her name was Margaret Schwarzkopf.

Margaret was bereft when her mother died, heartbroken that she could never “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear.” Mrs Frye took up a brown paper shopping bag, and wrote out this twelve line verse.

She didn’t title the poem, nor did she ever publish it, nor copyright the work.  People heard about it and liked it so Frye would make copies, but that’s about it.

mary-elizabeth-frye-4-728

For nigh on seventy years, few knew from where this little known bit of verse, had come.

Over the years, there have been many claims to authorship, including attributions to traditional and Native American origins.

The unknown poem has been translated into Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Ilocano, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and other languages, appearing on countless bereavement cards and read over untold funeral services.

The English translation of one Swedish version reads: “Do not weep at my grave – I am not there / I am in the sun’s reflection in the sea / I am in the wind’s play above the grain fields / I am in the autumn’s gentle rain / I am in the Milky Way’s string of stars / And when on an early morning you are awaked by bird’s song / It is my voice that you are hearing / So do not weep at my grave – we shall meet again.

Many in the United Kingdom heard the poem for the first time in 1995, when a grieving father read it over BBC radio in honor of his son, a soldier slain by a bomb in Northern Ireland. The son had left the poem with a few personal effects, and marked the envelope ‘To all my loved ones’.

For National Poetry Day that year, the British television program The Bookworm conducted a poll to learn the nation’s favorite poems, subsequently publishing the winners, in book form. The book’s preface describes “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” as “the unexpected poetry success of the year from Bookworm’s point of view… the requests started coming in almost immediately and over the following weeks the demand rose to a total of some thirty thousand. In some respects it became the nation’s favourite poem by proxy… despite it being outside the competition.”

All this at a time when the name and even the nationality of the author, was unknown.

47261870-jpeg_preview_large

Abigail Van Buren, better known as “Dear Abby”, researched the history of the poem in 1998, and determined that Mrs. Frye was, after all, the author.

Mary Elizabeth Frye passed away in Baltimore Maryland on September 4, 2004. She was ninety-eight.

The Times of Great Britain published her untitled work on November 5, as part of her obituary. ‘The verse demonstrated a remarkable power to soothe loss”, wrote the Times. “It became popular, crossing national boundaries for use on bereavement cards and at funerals regardless of race, religion or social status”.

I Did Not Die”
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft star-shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
Advertisements

November 4, 1918 Soldier Poet

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was working as a private English tutor in Bordeaux, when the “Great War” broke out in 1914.

800px-Memorial_to_the_Artists_Rifles,_Royal_Academy,_LondonAt first in no hurry to sign up, he even considered joining the French Army before returning home to England, to enlist in the Artists Rifles Training Corps, in October 1915.

Originally formed in 1859, the Artists Rifles was a British special forces regiment, raised in London and comprised of painters, musicians, actors and architects, and symbolized by the heads of the Roman gods Mars and Minerva.

It must have felt a natural place.  Wilfred Owen was a poet, a talent first discovered about ten years earlier, at age ten or eleven.

Owen was commissioned Second Lieutenant after six-months training, and posted with the Manchester Regiment of line infantry.  An application to the Royal Flying Corps was rejected in 1916 and he was shipped to France, joining the 2nd Manchester regiment near Beaumont Hamel, on the river Somme.

He was contemptuous of his men at first, considering them to be louts and barbarians.  He wrote home to his mother Susan in 1917, describing his company as “expressionless lumps”.  The war would soon beat that out of him.

Owen was close with his mother, his letters home telling a tale of mud and frostbite, of fifty hours spent under heavy bombardment, sheltered only by a muddy, flooded out dugout, of falling through shell-shattered earth into a cellar below, earning him a trip to the hospital.  It would not be his last.

Owen was caught in an explosion during the bitter battle of St. Quentin, blown off of his feet and into a hole, there to spend days fading in and out of consciousness amidst the shattered remains of a fellow officer.

d6d65d6After this experience, soldiers reported him behaving strangely. Owen was diagnosed as suffering from neurasthenia or shell shock, what we now understand to be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, for treatment.

There, Dr. Arthur Brock encouraged Owen to work hard on his poetry, to overcome his shell shock.  There he met another patient, the soldier and poet, Siegfried Sassoon. The chance meeting would elevate Wilfred Owen to one of the great war poets, of his generation.

Owen’s work was qualitatively different before this time, vaguely self important but never self pitying. Never a pacifist – he held those people to ridicule – Owen’s nightmares now brought forth a brutal honesty and a deep compassion for the burdens of the ordinary soldier.  Tales of trench life:  of gas, lice, mud and death, of Hell and returning to earth, steeped in contempt for the patriotic sentimentality of non-combatants and the slurs of cowardice, so lightly dispensed by the women of the “White Feather” movement.

Anthem for Doomed Youth, is a classic of the period:

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

wilfred-owenOwen continued to write through his period of convalescence, his fame as author and poet growing through the late months of 1917 and into March of the following year. Supporters requested non-combat postings on his behalf, but such requests were turned down. It’s unlikely he would have accepted them, anyway. His letters reveal a deep sense of obligation, an intention to return to the front to be part of and to tell the story of the common man, thrust by his government into uncommon conditions.

Wilfred Owen well understood his special talent.  He wanted a return to front line combat, made all the more urgent when Sassoon was once again wounded, and removed from the front.

He was back in France by September 1918, capturing a German machine gun position on the 29th, for which he would be awarded the Military Cross.  Posthumously.

On October 31, Owen wrote home to his mother, from the cellar of the Forrester’s house, at Ors.  It was to be the last such note she would ever receive,  “Of this I am certain: you could not be surrounded by a band of friends half so fine as surround me here.

The forty-four mile Sambre-Oise Canal flows through the Meuse river basin, a network of 38 locks directing the water’s flow and connecting the Netherlands and Belgium with the central waterways of France. Forces of the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex forced the canal on November 4, in coordination with elements of the 2nd Manchester Regiment and the Lancashire Fusiliers. British forces were to cross surrounding fields lined with high hedges, then to cross the canal by portable foot bridges, or climbing across the lock gates, themselves.

landrecies1918

The battle of the Sambre–Oise Canal was one of the last Allied victories of the Great War, and not without cost. Lock houses on the opposite side formed strong points for German defensive fire, from small arms and machine guns.

Wilfred Owen was at the head such a raiding party, when the bullets from the German machine gun tore into his body. He died a week nearly to the hour, from the armistice which would end the war.  He was twenty-five.

The church bells of Shrewsbury rang out in celebration that day in 1918, as Owen’s parents Tom and Susan, received the telegram.  The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

“Deeply regret to inform you, that…”

“Dulce et Decorum Est”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen, 1917

September 8, 1504 David

Michelangelo was that insufferably cocky kid who wasn’t bragging. He could deliver.

The Renaissance has been variously described as an advance beyond the dark ages, and a nostalgic period looking back to the Classical age. Whatever it was, the 15th and 16th centuries produced some of the most spectacularly gifted artists, in history.

None more so, than the Italian Masters.

There was Leonardo and Donatello, Raphael, Brunelleschi and Botticelli. Yet, only one among them would have his biography written, while he was still alive. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, had two. Only one of these men would have his home town renamed, after himself. Today, the Tuscan village of Caprese is known as Caprese Michelangelo.

Sistine Chapel

To look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, is to disbelieve that the artist who could produce such a work, didn’t care for painting.  In his heart and soul, Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he would say, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

BM49891He was “Il Divino”, “The Divine One”, literally growing up with the hammer and chisel. He had a “Terribilità” about him, an awe-inspiring sense of grandeur which made him difficult to work with, but for which he was at the same time, widely admired and imitated. Michelangelo was that insufferably cocky kid who wasn’t bragging.  He could deliver.

The massive block of Carrara marble was quarried in 1466, nine years before Michelangelo was born. The “David” commission was given to artist Agostino di Duccio that same year. So difficult was this particular stone that Duccio never got beyond roughing out the legs and draperies. Antonio Rossellino took a shot at it 10 years later, but didn’t get much farther.

25 years later, the Guild of Wool Merchants wanted to revive the abandoned project, and went looking for an artist. The now infamously difficult marble slab had deteriorated for years in the elements, when Michelangelo stepped forward at the age of 26. The prevailing attitude seems to have been yeah, give it to the kid. That will take him down a  peg or two.

Michelangelo began work on September 13th, 1501. His master work would take him three years to complete, nearly to the day.

Michelangelo's David - Accademia, FlorenceThe 17′, six-ton David was originally intended for the roof of the Florence Cathedral, but it wasn’t feasible to raise such an object that high. A committee including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli was formed to decide on an appropriate site for the statue. The committee chose the Piazza della Signoria outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.

It took four days on a specially constructed cart to move the David statue into position.  The unveiling took place on September 8, 1504. Among the dignitaries gathered for the occasion was the Mayor of Florence, Vasari Pier Soderini, who complained that David’s nose was “too thick”.

On some other day and time, a man such as Michelangelo may have invited the Lord Mayor, to perform an anatomically improbable act.  On this occasion, the artist climbed the statue with a handful of marble dust, sending down a shower of the stuff as he pretended to work on the nose. After several minutes, he stepped back and asked Soderini if the work was improved. “Yes”, replied the Mayor, now satisfied. “I like it better. You have given it life”.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

October 29,  1921  Bill Mauldin’s Army

A talented artist, Bill Mauldin’s medium was the cartoon.  Through them, he told the story of the common soldier, usually at a rate of six per week.

Bill Mauldin's Army 5Born on October 29, 1921 in New Mexico and brought up in Arizona, William Henry “Bill” Mauldin was part of what Tom Brokaw called, the “Greatest Generation”.

Mauldin enlisted in the 45th Infantry Division when the United States entered WWII.  He was a talented artist, trained at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and volunteered to work for the unit’s newspaper, as a cartoonist.

As a sergeant of the 45th Division’s press corps and later for Stars & Stripes, Mauldin was part of the invasion of Sicily and the later Italian campaign.  He was given his own jeep and allowed to go wherever he pleased, which was usually out in front.  His medium was the cartoon.  He told the story of the common soldier, usually at the rate of six per week.

Bill Mauldin's Army 2Mauldin developed two cartoon infantrymen, calling them “Willie and Joe”.  He told the story of the war through their eyes.  He became extremely popular within the enlisted ranks, while his humor tended to poke fun at the “spit & polish” of the officer corps.  He even lampooned General George Patton one time, for insisting that his men to be clean shaven all the time.  Even in combat.

Patton summoned the cartoonist to his office, threatening to “throw his ass in jail” for “spreading dissent”, until Dwight Eisenhower told Patton to leave him alone.  According to the Supreme Allied Commander, Mauldin’s cartoons gave the soldiers an outlet for their frustrations.

Bill Mauldin's Army 3Mauldin later told an interviewer, “I always admired Patton. Oh, sure, the stupid bastard was crazy. He was insane. He thought he was living in the Dark Ages. Soldiers were peasants to him. I didn’t like that attitude, but I certainly respected his theories and the techniques he used to get his men out of their foxholes”.

His was no rear echelon assignment.  Mauldin’s fellow soldier-cartoonist, Gregor Duncan, was killed in Anzio in May 1944.  Mauldin himself was wounded in a German mortar attack near Monte Cassino.  By the end of the war, he had received the Army’s Legion of Merit for his drawings.

Mauldin tried to revive Willy & Joe after the war, but found they didn’t assimilate well into civilian life.

“Peanuts” cartoonist Charles M. Schulz was himself a veteran of World War II. Schulz paid tribute to Rosie the Riveter and Ernie Pyle in his strip, but more than any other, he paid tribute to Willy & Joe. Snoopy visited with Willie & Joe no fewer than 17 times over the years.  Always on Veterans Day.

Bill Mauldin passed away on January 22, 2003, from a bathtub scalding exacerbated by complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

PeanutsBill Mauldin drew Willie & Joe for last time in 1998, for inclusion in Schulz’ Veteran’s Day Peanuts strip.  Schulz had long described Mauldin as his hero. He signed that final strip Schulz, as always, and added “and my Hero“.  Bill Mauldin’s signature, appears underneath.

Bill Mauldin's Army 6

 

September 13, 1501 David

If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would never know that the artist who produced such a work didn’t care for painting. Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he said, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

The Renaissance has been variously described as an advance beyond the dark ages, andMasters of Italian Art a nostalgic period looking back to the Classical age. Whatever it was, the 15th and 16th centuries produced some of the most spectacularly gifted artists, in history.

None more so, than the Italian Masters.

There was Leonardo and Donatello, Raphael, Brunelleschi and Botticelli, but only one of them would have his biography written while he was still alive. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, had two. Only one of these men would have his home town renamed after himself.  Today, the Tuscan village of Caprese is known as Caprese Michelangelo.

If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would never know that the artist who produced such a work didn’t care for painting. Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he would say, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

He was “Il Divino”, “The Divine One”, literally growing up with the hammer and chisel. He had a “Terribilità”, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur about him that made him difficult to work with, but he was widely admired and imitated. Michelangelo was that insufferably cocky kid who wasn’t bragging, because he could deliver.

Michelangelo-David-rearThe massive block of Carrara marble was quarried in 1466, nine years before Michelangelo was born. The “David” commission was given to artist Agostino di Duccio that same year. So difficult was this particular marble block that he never got beyond roughing out the legs and draperies. Antonio Rossellino took a shot at it 10 years later, but he didn’t get much farther.

25 years later, the Guild of Wool Merchants wanted to revive the abandoned project, and went looking for an artist. The now infamously difficult marble slab had deteriorated for years in the elements, when Michelangelo stepped forward at the age of 26.  The prevailing attitude seems to have been yeah, give it to him.  That will take him down a few pegs.

Michelangelo began work on September 13th, 1501. His master work would take him three years to complete.

The 17′, six-ton David was originally intended for the roof of the FlorenceDavid, Michelangelo Cathedral, but it wasn’t feasible to raise such an object that high. A committee including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli was formed to decide on an appropriate site for the statue. The commitee chose the Piazza della Signoria outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.

It took four days on a specially constructed cart to move the David statue into position, the unveiling taking place on September 8, 1504. Among the dignitaries gathered for the occasion was the Mayor of Florence, Vasari Pier Soderini, who complained that David’s nose was “too thick”.

Michelangelo climbed the statue with a handful of marble dust, sending down a shower of the stuff as he pretended to work on the nose. After several minutes, he stepped back and asked Soderini if it was improved. “Yes”, replied the Mayor, now satisfied. “I like it better. You have given it life”.Michelangelo at Work