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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Friday, April 20, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part III-B

To Practice Using Lasting Words

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
Emily Dickinson

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us - don't tell!
They'd advertise - you know!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
to an admiring bog!
Emily Dickinson

If Emily Dickinson had added an "L" to that last word "bog," she would be known as both a poet and a prophet in "bLog" circles. Even still, I hereby move that she be considered an honorary blogger (lacking only the technology that would come 1oo+ years later). After reading the two "posts" above, don't you wish you could leave her a comment?

But alas, the only "posts" her more than 1,800 entries saw were her bed posts. After her death, hundreds and hundreds of poems were found bundled with ribbon under her bed and in her bedside bureau. Only a handful were published (anonymously) during her lifetime.

She did "blog" a few of her musings (by handwritten letter) to a well-know editor of the time, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, but in his "comments" back to her he advised her not to publish them. He kindly thought they were a bit odd.

Through the years Emily and Thomas continued a friendship by mail. He once asked her to define poetry because he could simply not figure out many of her "posts." She wrote in her next entry: "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" I've read no better answer on his part.
She took her friend's advice but continued privately "blogging" on scraps of paper tucked out of public view. The quiet "blogger" once consoled herself that publishing her work would be like auctioning off her mind [which captures the fear all writers have that their work would find no bidders]. As she gave up on publishing, her life became more eccentric and reclusive. Ironically, sometime after her death on May 15, 1886, it was Higginson who published her poems.

As Miss Dickinson's world in Amherst, Massachusetts, began closing in around her, the Civil War was expanding in the states to her south. Just as Emily Dickinson's "letters to the world" were tucked away in obscurity, thousands of other letters never meant for public eyes were being mailed across the battle lines.

The topic of Part III-B is the enduring nature of well-chosen words. The samples are from personal unpublished writings that reflect the author's understanding that the patterns of ink coming from their pen may likely be read after they are gone. The letters below were not written to us and must be opened with the solemnity of the times and circumstances that prompted them:

Perhaps the most eloquent example is the letter from Sullivan Ballou to his wife, written July 14, 1861:

My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days.... Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more....
Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. … I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government….

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows…. my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, [struggles] in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- [as I] am communing with God, my country, and thee….

Sarah, my love for you is deathless....I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you…and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours - always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
Within a week, before the letter reached home, this loving husband and father was killed in battle. When time allows, read the complete story and letter here. (The photo of a letter above is from an Iowan to his family.)

Here is a letter from a Virginian on a battle field who wished to tell his wife the story of how he fell in love with her. His affections for her began when she was only eight and he was twice her age. The story unfolds with honor and propriety, and they eventually marry. Here are some letters form other Virginians. If you find these "last and lasting words" fascinating to read, this site had many more love letters from the Civil War. They do not all contain the sentiments of Sullivan Ballou, but they all reflect an urgency to be remembered through a note. They issue forth from hearts to which those who would read the words have never mattered more.
No discussion of Civil War eloquence would be complete without touching on Abraham Lincoln. We of course know him for his Gettysburg Address, which to me is sheer poetry, and his sad farewell to his friends at Springfield, who would a few years later welcome his tall, lean frame home for burial. After reading his brief letter to Mrs. Bixby, you'll see why I have chosen to close with it.
Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Massachusetts:
DEAR MADAM: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
Abraham Lincoln
Thank you for reading this long post through to the end. Perhaps it may inspire some bloggers to take up the lost art of letter writing on real paper to real loved ones in real time. Blogs are a good place to hone our craft and practice civility, but there is no place like paper for "lasting words" to people who need to hear them.
I do have one more letter to share (written about 100 years after these). It's from someone famous whom you all know of, but I doubt you've ever read this letter. Rather than add to this already long reading, I'll post it Sunday evening as Part III-C.
Until then (or in comments in between), have a great weekend!


Blogger J. H. Wilson said...

Brillantly written and well thought out commentary on blogging.

21/4/07 1:53 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Welcome to POI. The discussion and comments from this series of post has been very interesting and encouraging. Come again.

21/4/07 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember some of this about Emily D from American Literature. Nice tribute. At first it felt strange reading old letters not to us. Breaks your heart. I read the longer version. He was also orphan. He seemed so torn between love and duty. Thank you for these posts. Keep em coming!

21/4/07 7:10 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, that’s lovely. Two of the Emily Dickinson poems you have posted here I have also posted on my blog (along with some others). And I did take licence and changed the word to “blog”, with apologies to Emily Dickinson. She is my favorite poet. If I could write, I would express myself the way she did.

What an interesting set of posts you are doing here. I'm not a writer but I am a "blogger" so in that way I suppose I am keeping a journal. I am quite surprised at the some of the thoughts and ideas that have surfaced, that I have shared with the world. In a way blogging has not only allowed me to get to know other people, it has allowed me to get to know me. And as a result I have found how similar we all are, no matter what our talents or levels of education.


21/4/07 10:17 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

The closest I've felt to being that torn between my family's needs and my country was the day after 9-11. I knew then how the 100s of 1,000s of men felt when they enlisted after Pearl Harbor. That must be how Sullivan felt, but oh what a feeling to sense in your heart that you are writing your last words to loved ones.

You know what they say about great minds... =)
I haven't seen that post with the added the "L," but the same idea jumped out at me as I began writing this the other night.
Have you ever seen "The Belle of Amherst"? It's a one-woman show. I saw it years ago. It's great. What a fascinating life and gift.
Blogging is very much journaling. Based on the comments, I can see that it is as "light" or "word-smithy" as we make it.
Thanks for participating in the discussion. There are two post left in the series.
Good luck with that reclusive "black widow" at work.

21/4/07 11:05 PM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

A lot of thought and work must have gone into these recent posts. Thanks for sharing these poignant letters. I think for me, family comes before country. I know that's not very gallant but it's how I feel when i read Sullivan's letter.

22/4/07 10:14 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I do know what you mean about family over country. There are scenarios where I'd die for my wife or children's safety, and I guess this was one of those. The gist of his letter (longer version in the link) indicates this. The nation was less than 75 years old. Sullivan's grandfather likely had fought in the Revolutionary War. His father would have been alive as the Constitution was hammered out, etc. It was a different world. Then throw "honor" into it--the kind that made men "duel" with pistols for their good name, etc. It was a different time. Each battle had unthinkable casualties by today's standards (50,000+ at Gettysburg in 3 days).
Glad to see you made it back from your trip okay.

22/4/07 2:24 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Tom,
Happy Birthday to you.



22/4/07 2:47 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, Josie. It's been a wonderful day, and we're about to go walk to our favorite light house on Lake Michigan.

22/4/07 5:20 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

"I do have one more letter to share (written about 100 years after these)."

That wouldn't happen to be one of Ronald Reagan's letters? He wrote wonderfully kind, down-to-earth letters.

Oh, and Happy Birthday!

22/4/07 6:54 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

I am back again. Had to cut my first comment short (pressing matters.) To continue....

This was an excellent post, Tom, as usual for you.

As I gazed at the portrait of Emily Dickinson, I realized that she looks like an Emily. It is funny how some people fit their name. I had no idea that the bulk of her poems went unpublished till after her death. I liked that little poem "I'm nobody!"

Sullivan Ballou's letter to his wife Sarah was just as you said...eloquent. I was especially moved by the obvious struggle he had with choosing between country and family. I can imagine it was like trying to choose between two children whom you love equally and having to abandon one of them.

One of our children has been especially good over the years at expressing in writing her love for my husband and me and her gratitude. I have kept every one of her love notes to us. A person may find it difficult to put into writing the love he or she feels for certain people. But we can always say the words if writing them does not come easily.

When you were talking about Emily Dickinson being a blogger and suggesting that it would be nice, if it were only possible, to leave her a comment, I had a great idea. Living History blogs! That is blogs operated by living history interpreters. I am in love with living history stuff. When my husband and I toured Williamsburg, Virginia, we had an opportunity to interact with a professor (living history interpreter) at William and Mary College in one of the original lecture halls. We were able to ask him all sorts of questions pertaining to that time in history. He answered them as his historical persona. It was like we were communicating with a ghost from the past. Terrific!

I did a search for living history blogs and nothing turned up that matched what I had in mind. If you or any of your readers know of any such blogs, please let me know. I would be very interested.

22/4/07 8:24 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You're close on the letter. It's not Reagan, but have you read the book of collected letters between Nancy and him? There are lots we could share from that book. Not to mention his letter about the "long farewell." I allude to that in a post back in November 04 (scroll down to "Mourning in America").
That "living history blog" would be a cool idea. The closest thing I can recommend is a one-women show called "The Belle of Amherst." It's set in Emily D's home and bedroom and very interesting and entertaining.
My daughter is named for 3 literary "Emilies": Emily D. Emily Webb (Our Town) and Emily Bronte.

Sullivan's letter was hard to read with a dry eye.

22/4/07 8:54 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Opps! one more thing. Thank you for sharing about the letters you've kept from one of your children. It truly is a lost art. I try to do it as often as possible. My penmanship is awful, but I take my time because there's something about a handwritten letter.

22/4/07 9:02 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod.
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels -- twice descending
Reimbursed my store --
Burglar! Banker -- Father!
I am poor once more!

Emily Dickinson

23/4/07 12:13 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

"Hope" is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I've heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of Me.
Emily Dickinson

I knew you were a fan of hers and hoped you'd drop by.

23/4/07 2:15 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

WOW! What a letter and thanks for sharing and opening my eyes to literature (poetry) that I had long forgotten... and some that I had never seen before. It's kinda like reading the Bible... you get different meaning and insight each time you read it.

I loved the tribute to your Mom! How special, especially knowing she will read your blog. That just melted this mothers heart! She is now on my prayer list.

Happy Birthday to you! I hope it was a very special day and that you are blessed with many more.

The shower sounds fun and the excitement continues to mount. We haven't had our first one yet but it is just around the corner.

I look forward to your next "blogging" segments. This has been an exciting place to visit lately.

23/4/07 8:26 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

So glad you participating here. Don't feel forgetful about this literature. If I hadn't taught it for so many years, I'm certain it would not be on or in my mind either. In that regard it is very much like studying the Bible. The stories and images and metaphors of "studied" works become a part of the texture of our thoughts and writing.
I'm sure you would agree that scripture is also very much like a letter to us. The 19th century "letter writers" by in large, cherished their "horizontal" letters (to each other) and their "vertical" letter (from God).
As you of all know (there in N.C.), "the king's English" (from the King James Version) suvived much longer in the South. It comes through in many of the letters.
Fare thee well...

24/4/07 6:20 AM  
Blogger J_G said...

Tom, I was going to post the "Hope" poem but I like so much of her verse it's hard to choose sometimes. I have a book that is called "The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson". It is a Barnes and Noble Classics it has an introduction and notes by Rachel Wetzsteon. I never heard of her but I like the way the book is set up. The poems are divided by Roman numeral and they mostly have no titles except for a few. From my understanding that is true to Emily’s form of writing her poems.

What a life Emily Dickinson lived. I could not stand not leaving the house for long periods of time and separate myself from society as she did later in her life. It must have been very difficult for women of that time period and her class with such independent thoughts. I most likely would have found ways around the all the rules for women as I do today. I do however respect women like her very much that did the best that they could with what they had to work with. I guess that's what draws me to such people, they seem so different from me and I want to learn more and understand better.

I think if you go over to my blog (a shameless promotion) most people will see it is just as easy for me to understand and relate to the great suffering of the wages of war as it is for me to understand the delicate nature of someone like Emily Dickinson. I do believe though that she had some understanding of the brutality and inhumanity that was the Civil War battlefield.

Part One-Life


This merit hath the worst,-
It cannot be again
When faith hath taunted last
And thrown her furthest stone

The maimed may pause and breathe,
And glance securely round
The deer invite no longer
Than it eludes the hound

24/4/07 10:47 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

E.Dickinson is quotable because she is so terse, the epitome of "the force of few words" What I ponder as I consider Part IV is were her writings the solace or the cause of her seclusion? One of the great things about your blog is that it is a blend of art and articulation. I especially appreciate your military perspective and much needed support show to our troops.

28/4/07 10:23 AM  

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