“A lover’s quarrel with the world”-Robert Frost

In honor of his birthday on March 26, 1874,  a video tribute to Robert Frost.

I had a lover’s quarrel with the world

Robert Frost’s epitaph

Robert Frost (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Robert Frost (Courtesy Library of Congress)

One of my favorite places in Vermont is the Frost grave-site in the cemetery of the First Church in Old Bennington -just down the street from the Bennington Monument. This video was recorded there.

Apples, birches, hayfields and stone walls; simple features like these make up the landscape of four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost’s poetry. Known as a poet of New England, Frost (1874-1963) spent much of his life working and wandering the woods and farmland of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. As a young man, he dropped out of Dartmouth and then Harvard, then drifted from job to job: teacher, newspaper editor, cobbler. His poetry career took off during a three-year trip to England with his wife Elinor where Ezra Pound aided the young poet. Frost’s language is plain and straightforward, his lines inspired by the laconic speech of his Yankee neighbors.

But while poems like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” are accessible enough to make Frost a grammar-school favorite, his poetry is contemplative and sometimes dark—concerned with themes like growing old and facing death. One brilliant example is this poem about a young boy sawing wood,  Out, out– 

The buzz-saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,

The first poet invited to speak at a Presidential inaugural, Frost told the new President:

Be more Irish than Harvard. Poetry and power is the formula for another Augustan Age. Don’t be afraid of power.

A brief biography of Robert Frost can be found at Poets.org, where there are more samples of his poetry. It includes an account of Frost and JFK.

Robert Frost died on January 29, 1963. He had written his own epitaph, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world,” etched on his headstone in a church cemetery in Bennington, VT.

Here is the NYTimes obituary published after his death.

This material is adapted from Don’t Know Much About Literature written in collaboration with Jenny Davis.

 

Don’t Know Much About® Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States, was born on March 15, 1767 in Waxhaw (on the border of both South and North Carolina, the exact location is uncertain). Does he deserve his place on the $20 bill? Imacon Color Scanner In his day and ever since, Andrew Jackson has inspired high emotions and sharp opinions. Thomas Jefferson once called him, “A dangerous man. ”

His predecessor as president, John Quincy Adams, a bitter political rival, said Jackson was,

“A barbarian who could not even write a sentence of grammar and could hardly spell his own name.”

As a boy in the American Revolution, as a self-taught military commander, and as two-term president –serving from 1829-1837– Andrew Jackson was one of the most influential and powerful of American chief executives. Although his greatest fame as a soldier came during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, Jackson established his reputation as a tough and remorseless leader during the Creek War, fought as the War of 1812 was already underway.

His place and reputation as an Indian fighter in this overlooked fight against the Creek Indians began with the worst frontier massacre in American history on August 30, 1813, when a group of Creek Indians, led by a half-Creek, half-Scot warrior named William Weatherford, or Red Eagle, attacked an outpost known as Fort Mims north of Mobile, Alabama. Like Pearl Harbor or 9/11, it was an event that shocked the nation. Soon, Red Eagle and his Creek warriors were at war with Andrew Jackson, the Nashville lawyer turned politician, who had no love for the British or Native Americans.

You know the name of  Andrew Jackson. But you don’t know the name William Weatherford. You should. He was a charismatic leader of his people who wanted freedom and to protect his land. Just like “Braveheart,” or William Wallace, of Mel Gibson fame. Only William Weatherford, or Red Eagle, wasn’t fighting a cruel King. He was at war with the United States government. And Andrew Jackson. This video offers a quick overview of Weatherford’s war with Jackson that ultimately led the demise of the Creek nation.

You can read more about William Weatherford, Andrew Jackson, and Jackson’s role in American history in A NATION RISING. Andrew Jackson’s life and presidency are also covered in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents.

Don't Know Much About the American Presidents (2012) (From Hyperion and Random House Audio)

Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents (2012)
(From Hyperion and Random House Audio)

PBS also offers a good look at the different sides of Andrew Jackson.

A NATION RISING (Harper paperback/Random House Audio)

A NATION RISING (Harper paperback/Random House Audio)

 

Don’t Know Much About® Eli Whitney: A TED-Ed Lesson

"Eli Whitney," portrait of the inventor, oil on canvas, by the American painter Samuel F. B. Morse. 35 7/8 in. x 27 3/4 in. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

“Eli Whitney,” portrait of the inventor, oil on canvas, by the American painter Samuel F. B. Morse. 35 7/8 in. x 27 3/4 in. Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

To mark the birthday of American Eli Whitney on December 8, 1765, here is a short video about the Connecticut-born inventor’s most famous “invention,” the Cotton Gin. This was created as my first contribution to Ted-Ed: “Lessons Worth Sharing.”

This portrait of the inventor is by another inventor– Samuel F.B. Morse who was a well-known painter and art teacher before he gained fame for the development of the telegraph and the Morse Code.

The cotton gin changed history for good and bad. By allowing one field hand to do the work of 10, it powered a new industry that brought wealth and power to the American South — but, tragically, it also multiplied and prolonged the use of slave labor.  In this video, I discuss  innovation, while warning of unintended consequences.

Eli Whitney died in New Haven, Connecticut on January 8, 1825.  You can learn more about Whitney and his inventions at the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop.

Banned Books Week (2013): “Don’t Join the Book Burners”

(This video was made in 2010 but I re-post it for Banned Books Week)

To close out the 2013 edition of Banned Books Week, I offer the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a commencement address delivered at Dartmouth in 1953:

Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

–President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Remarks at Dartmouth College Commencement (June 14, 1953)

President Eisenhower (Courtesy: Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum)

President Eisenhower (Courtesy: Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum)

 

(Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises, Hanover, New Hampshire.,” June 14, 1953. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9606.)

While books are rarely actually “banned” in America, the concept of restricting access to some books is much more commonplace, usually in classrooms and school libraries. Typically , books are pulled from shelves and reading lists after the objection of a an individual or group. The American Library Association, which sponsors “Banned Books Week,” explains the difference between “banned” and “challenged.”

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

As the nation debates “Common Core,” an educational approach that demands reading and responding to ideas, the importance of this reminder of the right to free expression and the value of THINKING in a free society is more urgent than ever.

You can find many more resources on the issue of “banned” and “challenged” books at the American Library Association.

The New York Times Learning Network also offers some good teaching resources on classroom discussion of “controversial” books.

“Don’t Join the Book Burners”-Banned Books Week (2013)

(This video was made in 2010 but I re-post it for Banned Books Week)

Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

–President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Remarks at Dartmouth College Commencement (June 14, 1953)

(Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises, Hanover, New Hampshire.,” June 14, 1953. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9606.)

This week from September 22-28, ,2013, the nation’s libraries mark Banned Books Week.

Rarely are books actually “banned” in America. More typically , they are pulled from libraries and classrooms after the objection of a an individual or group. The ALA explains the difference between “banned” and “challenged.”

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.  Due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

So  it is time to think about the “Book Wars” again. That often means rounding up the “usual suspects” like The Catcher in the Rye, Beloved, or To Kill a Mockingbird.
But it also means that new books come along all the time that many parents, school board members or other individuals find “offensive” or “inappropriate.”

As the nation debates “Common Core,” an educational approach that demands reading and responding to ideas, the importance of this reminder of the right to free expression and the value of THINKING in a free society is more urgent than ever.

You can find many more resources on the issue of “banned” and “challenged” books at the American Library Association.

Don’t Know Much About Minute: More Pilgrims 101

When Abraham Lincoln signed a Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863 calling for a day of gratitude on the last Thursday in November, it began an unbroken string of presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations. In 1941, the FOURTH Thursday in November was set as a national holiday by Congress and signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In my previous video and quiz about Thanksgiving, I told you that there were no black hats with buckles, half of the “pilgrims” weren’t Pilgrims and that the first Thanksgiving was really  in October. Here are a few more pieces of the picture.

And here is a link to a story I wrote for the New York Times about America’s real first Pilgrims, a group of French settlers in Florida who arrived 50 years before the Mayflower sailed.

A day of “Thanksgiving” was officially proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. It was the beginning of an unbroken string of Thanksgiving proclamation by American presidents. The last Thursday in November became an official national holiday in 1941, signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

THE PLIMOTH PLANTATION historical site also offers a good overview of the Pilgrim story:

Ugly Campaigns Go Way Back

Think it’s bad now? How about being called a “whoremongering jacobin?”

“A Mormon and a Catholic Walk Into a Bar…”

Sounds like the opening line of a stand-up joke, doesn’t it?

The fact that a Mormon candidate for President and his Roman Catholic running mate seem to be attracting very little attention over their respective religions is almost news in itself. And good news. After all, the Constitution says,

 but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. (Article VI)

But in 1844, a Mormon and a Catholic certainly wouldn’t be running together for the top two offices in America. And if they walked into a bar in Philadelphia, they might get their teeth knocked out. Or worse.

That is the story I tell in this video about the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant “Bible Riots” of 1844 in the City of Brotherly Love.

We’d like to believe in that old “melting pot” myth of American religious freedom. But in fact, the nation’s history is riddled with religious intolerance –and it often reared its head in presidential politics. The “Christian Nation” fallacy is a subject I addressed in the article “Why US Is Not a Christian Nation,” published on July 4, 2011 –but as timely as ever.

 

A Nation Rising (Harper)

The story of the “Bible Riots” is told in greater detail in A NATION RISING.

The subject of religion and the presidency is also explored in my forthcoming book Don ‘t Know Much About® the American Presidents, available on September 18.

Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents
(September 18, 2012-Hyperion Books)

Flag Day and Mr. Madison’s War

America  is preparing to mark the 200th anniversary of one of the most unnecessary and avoidable wars in its history– the War of 1812, or “Mr. Madison’s War,” declared by Congress  on June 18, 1812.

It is also appropriate to note that today  – June 14– is Flag Day, the day that the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the nation’s flag in 1777. These two landmarks come together because it was during the War of 1812 that America got the words that eventually became its national anthem –with music borrowed from an old English drinking song. Almost from the outset, the song has been butchered at baseball games and Super Bowls.

At war with England for the second time since 1776,  the United States was ill-prepared for fighting and the British were preoccupied with a war with France. So it was a fitful few years of war.

But the conflict  produced an iconic American moment in September 1814.  Francis Scott Key was an attorney attempting to negotiate the return of a civilian prisoner held by the British who had just burned Washington DC and had set their sights on Baltimore. As the British attacked the city, Key watched the naval bombardment from a ship in Baltimore’s harbor. In the morning, he could see that the Stars and Stripes still flew over Fort McHenry. Inspired, he wrote the lyrics that we all know –well, at least some of you probably know some of them.

But here’s what they didn’t tell you:

Yes, Washington, D.C. was burned by the British  in 1814, including the President’s Mansion which would later get a fresh coat of paint and come to be called the “White House.” But Washington was torched in retaliation for the burning of York –now Toronto—in Canada earlier in the war.

Yes, Key wrote words. But the music comes from an old English drinking song. Good thing it wasn’t 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Here’s a link to the original lyrics of the drinking song To Anacreon in Heaven  (via Poem of the Week).

The Star Spangled Banner did not become the national anthem until 1916 when President Wilson declared it by Executive Order. But that didn’t really count. In 1931, it became the National Anthem by Congressional resolution signed by President Herbert Hoover.,

Now here are two other key –no pun intended– events related to Flag Day, June 14:

•In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that  schoolchildren could not be compelled to salute the flag if it conflicted with their religious beliefs

•In 1954 on Flag Day, President Eisenhower signed the law that added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.

 Learn more about Fort McHenry, Key and the Flag that inspired the National Anthem from the National Park Service.

The images and music in this video are courtesy of the Smithsonian Museum of American History which has excellent resources on the flag that inspired Key.

This version of the anthem is on 19th century instruments:
http://americanhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/mp3/song.ssb.dsl.mp3

The history of the War of 1812, including a Timeline of major events, is explored in greater depth in the Anniversary edition of Don’t Know Much About History, now available in paperback.

Don't Know Much About History (Anniversary Edition, paperback)

 

A Nation Rising: A Video Q&A with Author Kenneth C. Davis

(Originally recorded in May 2010)

 

“With his special gift for revealing the significance of neglected historical characters, Kenneth Davis creates a multilayered, haunting narrative. Peeling back the veneer of self-serving nineteenth-century patriotism, Davis evokes the raw and violent spirit not just of an ‘expanding nation,’ but of an emerging and aggressive empire.”

-Ray Raphael, author of Founders