Inspiration comes from many sources, in this case from road kill. Carcasses lie abandoned on the side of the road which led the Mariner’s wife to write this poem:
Elegy for a Dead Raccoon
The body lies beside the road
A furred lump hit by a passing car
Left like refuse, unremarked.
We in the cocoons of our cars
Pass by without a second glance
Without a second thought.
If we gave it a second thought
We would have to recognize
That we, too, will become a lump
Beside the road.
Our mammal bodies are not different:
A baby raccoon was born, suckled,
Stretched his paws, struggled to walk,
Learned to eat, to drink, to clean himself,
Wrestled with his brothers and sisters,
Explored the same world we live in
With the same five senses.
The only difference is that when he died,
In a sudden, tragic accident
His body was left as a furred lump
Beside the road.
There were no remarks at a solemn funeral
And no elegy
Except for this one.
Getting the most out history is an art form. History books that deliver dates, events and event correlations are full of facts but leave out the human condition, the three dimensional reality that makes history real and provides the reader with human substance. One trick to expand one’s understanding of history is to read biographies of those who played a role in history but may not have been on the front page. As a bonus, biographies are easy to read and almost like reading fiction. Below are four biographies spread across a wide spectrum of history.
Lucy by Ellen Feldman, W,W, Norton, 2011.
One of the most important romances in the last century. Although their relationship was heavily constrained, their love lasted. Lucy was with FDR when he died. Arthur Schlesinger gave a review:
“It is a story which reminds us of the code of another day, of the complexity of human relationships, of the human problems of statesmen bearing the heaviest responsibilities and of the capacity of mature people to accept the frustrations of life and, perhaps, to make of frustrations a sort of triumph. Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lucy Mercer all emerge from the story with honor.
And, if Lucy Mercer in any way helped Franklin Roosevelt sustain the frightful burdens of leadership in the Second World War, the nation has good reason to be grateful to her.”
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
The Sixth Extinction, an Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, Henry Holt & Co. 2014.
Mariner has referenced this book in past posts. It is an accounting of Kolbert’s travels around the world visiting scientists and living creatures. However, it is a biography of us and our association with the Earth’s life forms. Written in a story-like style, it is mesmerizing.
Paul Newman, A Life by Shawn Levy, Random House, 2009.
Historian Shawn Levy gives readers the ultimate behind-the-scenes examination of the actor’s life from his merry pranks on the set to his lasting romance with Joanne Woodward to the devastating impact of his son’s death from a drug overdose. This definitive biography is a fascinating portrait of an extraordinary man who gave back as much as he got out of life and just happened to be one of the most celebrated movie stars of the twentieth century.
Frederick the Wise by Sam Wellman, Concordia Press, 2015.
Little is known about one of the most powerful individuals in the Reformation, Frederick III, Elector of Saxony. Blessed by a translation of German works by Sam Wellman, Frederick’s life and influences are readily available. Frederick was the protector of Martin Luther as Saxony battled the Holy Roman Church during the 15th and 16th centuries.