Saturday, November 17, 2012

To the Library Cast-off

Tonight I am going to break my own rules and post something without including a quote. Throughout the few months of this blog's existence, we've heard from all sorts of people: Michel de Montaigne, Annie Dillard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. All quite different, with different experiences, different occupations, even from centuries far apart, and different perspectives on life. Most of the quotes I have shared I discovered completely by accident, some on Google (which I'll admit is cheating), others by simply reading. Each book is like a treasure map, but with "x"s dotting every corner, gold nuggets strewn along the way.

Books not only take the reader on a journey, but each has also been on a journey itself. The kind of history an old book carries with it is something that the e-reader, as popular as it is, will never be able to offer. This is why I love shopping at the local library. You will never buy a new book there, but each one tells two stories: its author's and its own. I will never know who Hugh J. McKully was, but I do know he owned my 1912 copy of Ben-Hur before I did. I have never met George and Jackie, but I know they gave a copy of Bartlett's Famous Quotations to their friends Bob and Alice on March 12, 1971, with this quote circled: "What though youth gave love and roses, age still leaves us friends and wine" -Thomas Moore.

The old book isn't always pleasing to look at; it might require great care to keep it intact. Even still, don't throw it away; it may have something to tell you...

To the Library Cast-off

The rusty color of the spine
By a thousand eyes perused.
A thousand fingers traced each line,
Their prints a thousand clues.

Where were you when these bricks were laid?
Perhaps an author's whim?
The newest game at which he played
When success seemed very slim?

Perhaps, you go back farther still,
From a manor house of old.
At home with both the ink and quill,
Your leaves once boasted gold.

The mother who read you while baking bread,
Thank her for leaving her mark.
Thank the child reading undercover in bed,
Who you kept from fearing the dark.

Thank the student with the busy pen,
Whose thoughts were left behind.
Thank the scores of conscientious men,
Whose traces I cannot find.

Some days you were a sorry sight,
Which only librarians saw.
They made your failing binding tight
And wrote a stricter law:

"Special collection, by special request."
"You may not take these home."
Nicely put, a chance to rest
For geriatric tomes.

But even this could never last,
When interest in you had grown cold.
A book will find that in time it has passed
From "history" to simply "too old."

That's how I found you, in the back of a shelf.
For sale, with the dust thick like frost.
I bought you and took you home for myself,
Worth so much more than you cost.

We'll sit by the fire, and you'll tell me today
What you've seen, all the people you've met.
Teach me my friend, and if I have my way
You'll not reach "The End" just yet.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Night of Broken Glass

"Christianity--and that is its greatest merit--has somewhat mitigated that brutal German love of war, but it could not destroy it. Should that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered, the frenzied madness of the ancient warriors, that insane Beserk rage of which Nordic bards have spoken and sung so often, will once more burst into flame... The ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes, and finally Thor with his giant hammer will jump up and smash the Gothic cathedrals... Thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder... When you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world's history, then you will know that the German thunderbolt has fallen at last. At that uproar the eagles of the air will drop dead, and lions in the remotest deserts of Africa will hide in their royal dens. A play will be performed in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll."

Yesterday and today mark the 74th anniversary of Kristallnacht, known in English as the "Night of Broken Glass." It was 1938 and World War Two was still on the horizon, but anti-Semitism in Germany was strong, and November 9th and 10th would go down in infamy. The homes and businesses of Jewish people were smashed and raided, people were dragged from their homes and beaten, all while the authorities stood silently by. An act of organized horror that was only a foretaste of what was to come.

When German poet Heinrich Heine penned the above quote in 1834, he could not have known what would happen one hundred years hence. Still, his words ring out like an eerie premonition of someone who knew how to read the times.

The Holocaust has always affected me particularly because of my father's Jewish heritage. His grandmother had relatives in Poland who did not survive. So, when I wrote the following poem, it was in their memory, and in the memory of those who suffered on Kristallnacht. May we never forget.

The broken panes, like frightened eyes implore,
And strewn between debris and splintered glass,
The Torah scrolls lie smoldering on the floor.

Like rats, the soldiers from each corner pour,
And of the witnesses, a callous mass,
The broken panes, like frightened eyes, implore.

The rabbi's shall in shreds, which once he wore,
And shards of colored windows fill the grass,
While Torah scrolls lie smoldering on the floor.

They cringe to hear as axes hack the door,
And they who flee, the clubs and stones harass,
Like broken panes, whose frightened eyes implore.

The crumpled forms were cruelly beaten, or
Were slain alike; no notice paid to class,
Like Torah scrolls, laid smoldering on the floor.

Today, the screams and shatters ring no more,
And yet the memory will never pass,
How broken panes, like frightened eyes, implored,
And Torah scrolls lay smoldering on the floor.