“On the Question of Choice”

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A leaf was riven from a tree,
“I mean to fall to earth,” said he.

The west wind, rising, made him veer.
“Eastward,” said he, “I now shall steer.”

The east wind rose with greater force.
Said he, “‘Twere wise to change my course.”

With equal power they contend.
He said, “My judgment I suspend.”

Down died the winds; the leaf, elate,
Cried: “I’ve decided to fall straight.”

“First thoughts are best?” That’s not the moral;
Just choose your own and we’ll not quarrel.

Howe’er your choice may chance to fall,
You’ll have no hand in it at all.

— Ambrose Bierce

Reverie

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“Stopping by Euclid’s Proof of the Infinitude of Primes,” by Presbyterian College mathematician Brian D. Beasley, “with apologies to Robert Frost”:

Whose proof this is I think I know.
I can’t improve upon it, though;
You will not see me trying here
To offer up a better show.

His demonstration is quite clear:
For contradiction, take the mere
n primes (no more), then multiply;
Add one to that … the end is near.

In vain one seeks a prime to try
To split this number — thus, a lie!
The first assumption was a leap;
Instead, the primes will reach the sky.

This proof is lovely, sharp, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And tests to grade before I sleep,
And tests to grade before I sleep.

(From Mathematics Magazine 78:2 [April 2005], 171.)

“A Victim of Irregularity”

Though no great catch, this man was caught,
And neighbors tell, I’m told,
That oft, with scratch, his face was scraught,
Till fearful yells he yold.

In sink of sadness almost sunk,
To quit all strife he strove —
And after he a think had thunk,
A happier life he love.

To steal a kiss, no more he stole;
To make a break, he broke;
To remedy the deal he’d dole,
A secret sneak he snoke.

Fate’s dice with crafty shake he shook;
As gamblers feel he felt;
But ere the final stake he stook
A bitter squeal he squelt.

Of earlier days, I think, he thought,
Ere Hymen’s bonds had bound —
Before his links were firmly lought —
When he by blond was blound.

A stroke for liberty he struck;
For in a fly he flew —
But though full many a joke he juck,
A secret cry he crew.

Then stings of conscience no more stung,
And so in peace he slept;
For, on the wings of Morpheus brung,
In Paradise he pept.

— George B. Moregood, Puck, Oct. 2, 1912

“Courage”

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A poem written by Amelia Earhart in 1928:

Courage is the price that
Life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.

How can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull grey ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion? Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless day,
And count it fair.

“Please know I am quite aware of the hazards,” she wrote in a final letter left to her husband. “I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”

Poem Codes

During World War II the British Special Operations Executive used poetry to communicate with its agents in enemy territory. The sender and receiver would agree in advance on a poem, and by numbering its letters they produced a simple cipher that could be used to transmit messages. Because both sides could memorize the poem, there was no codebook to lose, but the Nazis could break the code fairly easily, particularly if the poem was well known.

Realizing this, SOE codes officer Leo Marks began to introduce original poems of his own creation. He gave this one to French agent Violette Szabo in March 1944:

The life that I have is all that I have,
And the life that I have is yours.
The love that I have of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have,
Yet death will be but a pause.
For the peace of my years in the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

Marks had written it three months earlier in memory of his girlfriend Ruth, who had died in a plane crash in Canada. The poem became famous when it was read in the 1958 film Carve Her Name With Pride, about Szabo’s exploits in the war. Unfortunately, Szabo herself was captured, tortured, and killed before she could transmit any messages.

Other Business

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In 1985, as the U.S. Senate was considering whether to declare the rose America’s national flower, Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) read out a seven-verse poem in support of the measure:

Marigolds and dogwood,
Camellias and more,
All flowers are beautiful
And made to adore.

But today there are deficits,
And farm bills and trade,
Aren’t these the subjects
On which decisions should be made?

Still, if on a nation’s flower
A few moments we spend,
We might be refreshed and
Come down to Earth again.

Besides, to select a flower
As America’s might not be bad,
Because I sure don’t want
To make the garden clubs mad.

But all flowers are delicate.
Each can refresh and amuse,
And that is the reason
I feel no flower should lose.

Still the rose is universal,
Its support has a strong voice,
So there should be no question
That the rose is the choice.

So let us raise our voice and
Proclaim with all our power
That the rose is more than beautiful —
It is “America’s Flower.”

Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), who sponsored the joint resolution, replied in kind:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Heflin should be
A co-sponsor of this bill too.

Ronald Reagan signed the measure into law the following year.

(Thanks, Sam.)