‘Decoration Day’ a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Before we head out for the holiday weekend, let’s take a minute to pause and remember those who went to work @war with ‘Decoration Day’, a poem, written in 1882 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

On May 30, 1868 five thousand people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the first ‘Decoration Day’. An Ohio congressman, who had served as a major general in the Civil War, James A. Garfield addressed the crowd.

“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot.”

The Memorial Day we celebrate in the U.S. this weekend had its origins in the years after the Civil War. It was customary to ‘decorate’ the graves of those who had died in defense of their country, and on May 5, 1868  General John Logan designated May 30 as ‘Decoration Day’ “because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle”.

David Barber introduced Longfellow’s poem for the Atlantic in 2011.

“Longfellow’s “Decoration Day” may not rank among his canonic Atlantic verse, but it imparts a burnished poignancy all its own. In the solemn, hymn-like strains that were a hallmark of the country’s foremost “Fireside Poet,” the poem pays tribute to what was then a new form of civic observance: a day set aside to commemorate those who had perished in the Civil War by placing flags and flowers on soldiers’ graves, a custom that gradually gave rise to our modern Memorial Day honoring all who give their lives in military service. Its first readers likely felt an elegaic pang all the more acutely: by the time the poem circulated in the June 1882 Atlantic, it would have been national news that Longfellow had died just a few weeks earlier at his home in Cambridge, at the age of 75.”

Decoration Day

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The week@work – Essays about work & class, what to learn in college, & paying tribute on Memorial Day

This week@work invites us to pause and remember those whose unselfish commitment to our way of life motivates them to sacrifice immediate career aspirations, family and in some cases, their lives. On my ‘honors list ‘this year, in addition to the active members in the military and veterans, are the doctors and nurses who travelled to Africa to fight Ebola and the medical personnel who treated the Ebola patients who returned to the US.

These folks allow the rest of us to go about pursuing our own ‘American dream’ while they ensure our right to do so. We apply to college, launch careers, struggle with work/life balance and do our best to contribute to our communities. And on one day, Memorial Day, in towns across the country there will remember with parades, 5k races and wreaths set on memorials to the war dead.

Work & Class (‘Essays About Work and Class That Caught a College’s Eye’, Ron Lieber, The New York Times, May 21)

Very few college admissions essays address issues of work and class, but each year, a selection of those that do are published in The New York Times.

“The single most memorable line we read this year came from an essay by Carolina Sosa, who lives in Centreville, Va., and will attend Georgetown University. In writing about her father’s search for a job, she described the man named Dave who turned him away.

“Job searching is difficult for everyone, but in a world full of Daves, it’s almost impossible,” she wrote. “Daves are people who look at my family and immediately think less of us. They think illegal, poor and uneducated. Daves never allow my dad to pass the first round of job applications. Daves watch like hawks as my brother and I enter stores. Daves inconsiderately correct my mother’s grammar. Because there are Daves in the world, I have become a protector for my family.”

What to Learn in College (‘What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers’, Robert J. Shiller, The New York Times, May 22)

Professor Shiller addresses the central question in higher education today. How do we ensure that those who attend college are transformed by the experience, not just with a utilitarian skill set, but with a broader understanding of the human condition and a commitment to improving their local and global community?

“What can young people learn now that won’t be superseded within their lifetimes by these devices and that will secure them good jobs and solid income over the next 20, 30 or 50 years? In the universities, we are struggling to answer that question.

Two strains of thought seem to dominate the effort to deal with this problem. The first is that we teachers should define and provide to our students a certain kind of general, flexible, insight-bearing human learning that, we hope, cannot be replaced by computers. The second is that we need to make education more business-oriented, teaching about the real world and enabling a creative entrepreneurial process that, presumably, computers cannot duplicate. These two ideas are not necessarily in conflict.”

His conclusion reflects a recognition of the value of integrated, adaptive learning.

“The developing redefinition of higher education should provide benefits that will continue for decades into the future. We will have to adapt as information technology advances. At the same time, we must continually re-evaluate what is inherently different between human and computer learning, and what is practical and useful to students for the long haul. And we will have to face the reality that the “art of living in the world” requires at least some elements of a business education.”

Paying Tribute

This week The 9/11 Memorial marked it’s first anniversary since opening. News organizations were given a preview of the observation deck atop the new One World Trade Center. A good time to revisit the intention of the original architect of the twin towers, and his quote preserved on the wall of the memorial museum.

“Beyond the compelling need to make this a monument to world peace, the World Trade Center should, because of its’ importance, become a living representation of man’s belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and through this cooperation his ability to find greatness.” 

Minoru Yamasaki, World Trade Center Architect, 1964

This week@work we make connections. The architect’s desire for his building to represent man’s belief in humanity, Carolina Sosa’s hope to recover her father’s human dignity from ‘the Daves’ and Professor Shiller’s intention to preserve the values of higher education to ensure each graduate’s opportunity to find greatness.