December 10:  Declarative Sentence Day

On this day in 1954, Ernest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Because of illness, Hemingway was unable to attend the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, Sweden to receive his award in person.  He did, however, prepare a brief speech which was read by John C. Cabot, United States Ambassador to Sweden.

ErnestHemingway.jpgIn addition to expressing his appreciation to the Nobel administrators, Hemingway’s speech provided some insights on the writer’s life:

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day (1).

Characteristic of Hemingway’s writing, all four sentences in the paragraph above are declarative, that is they are sentences in which the subject precedes the verb, and they are sentences that make direct statements.  Unlike interrogative sentences, they do not ask questions (Why is writing a lonely life?).  Unlike imperative sentences, they do not make commands (Write everyday no matter what.) And unlike exclamatory sentences, they do not express strong emotion (Writing is hard work!).

Hemingway believed that it was the writer’s job to declare the truth, and as he explained in his memoir A Moveable Feast there’s no better way to declare the truth than in declarative sentences:

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Today’s Challenge:  The Title is Also Declarative

What is a declarative sentence that would serve as a good title for a personal anecdote?  As Hemingway did with his novel The Sun Also Rises, try coming up with a good title in the form of one complete declarative sentence.  Then write an anecdote, either fact or fiction, that matches the title. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Courage is grace under pressure.  -Ernest Hemingway

1-https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1954/hemingway-speech.html

12/10 TAGS:  declarative sentence, syntax, Hemingway, Ernest, Nobel Prize, Cabot, John C., interrogative sentence, imperative sentence, exclamatory sentence, memoir, title, anecdote, narrative

December 9:  Narrative Poem Day

On this day in 1854, Britain’s Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson published his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”  The poem recounts a horrific episode at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War.  On October 25, 1854,* the British Light Brigade rode into battle against Russian forces.  Following an ambiguous order to attack, the soldiers of the British cavalry were mowed down by Russian field artillery as they charged across a treeless valley.  Of the 673 British horsemen who made the charge that day only 198 survived (1).

Tennyson is said to have written his famous narrative poem in just a few minutes after reading an account of the battle in the newspaper.  The six-stanza poem immediately became popular, and even today its famous lines capture the plight of common soldiers, nobly and courageously following the orders of their superior:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:

Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

Narrative poetry is probably the oldest form of poetry there is.  A narrative poem is a poem with a plot, a plot which centers around characters, conflict, and setting.  

The most common forms of narrative poems are the short form known as a ballad and a long form known as an epic.  According to Edward Hirsch in his book A Poet’s Glossary, these poems are some of our oldest forms of storytelling:  “Both ballads and epics originated in prehistory as forms of oral poetry.  They were sung aloud, created — and re-created — by individuals performing with a participating audience” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Muse Meets the News

What event from today’s news is worthy of immortalizing in verse?  Read Tennyson’s poem carefully, noticing how he tells the story of The Charge of the Light Brigade (3).  Then, like Tennyson, read a story in today’s newspaper, and write a short narrative poem that captures the key elements of the story. (Common Core 3 – Narrative)

*See October 25:  History Into Verse Day

Quotation of the Day:  If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. -Rudyard Kipling

1- March, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  366: A Leap Year of Great Stories. Cambridge, UK:  Icon Books, 2007: 342.

2-Hirsch, Edward. A Poet’s Glossary page 397.

3-http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45319

12/9 TAGS:  narrative poem, Tennyson, Alfred Lord, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Hirsch, Edward, news story, narrative,

December 6:  Passive Voice Day

On this date in 1986 President Ronald Reagan presented a radio address to the nation.  His subject was a political scandal called the Iran-Contra Affair, where members of Reagan’s administration engaged in a secret arms deal in an attempt to obtain the release of American hostages.  Without approval or even the knowledge of the U.S. Congress, Reagan administration officials sold weapons to Iran and then used the profits from the sale to fund rebel forces in Nicaragua.

Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981.jpgWhen a Lebanese newspaper published a report detailing the secret deal in November 1986, President Reagan was forced to address the matter publicly:

I realize you must be disappointed and probably confused with all the furor of the last couple of weeks. You must be asking: What were we doing in the Middle East? What was our policy? Where was it wrong? Were we engaged in some kind of shenanigans that blew up in our face? I can understand if these are the questions you’re asking, and I’d like to provide some answers.

In the process of providing his explanation to the American people, Reagan used a classic framing device, the evasive maneuver known as passive voice:

And while we are still seeking all the facts, it’s obvious that the execution of these policies was flawed and mistakes were made [emphasis added] (1).

Use of the passive voice puts the object of the sentence “mistakes” up front and makes the doer of the action magically disappear.  Use of the passive voice allows the speaker to subtly evade admitting direct responsibility.  Notice the difference in the two sentences below:

Active Voice:  I made a mistake.

Passive Voice:  Mistakes were made.

Reagan was certainly not the first president to make this kind of unapologetic apology.  Use of this artful dodge dates back to the Ulysses S. Grant administration.  In a report to Congress in 1876, Grant acknowledged his administration’s scandals, saying “mistakes have been made, as all can see and I admit it” (2).

For most writers, understanding the difference between active and passive voice has nothing to do with political rhetoric.  Instead the difference relates to making sure that your sentences are as clear, concise and active as possible.  

Just as the key to keeping your car running well is taking care of its engine,  the key to successful sentences is taking care of the engine of the sentence:  the verb.  Notice the difference in the following two sentences:

Passive Sentence:  The book was read by Mary.

Active Sentence:  Mary read the book.

Both sentences say the same thing.  The active sentence, however,  says it in fewer words.  Also, the active sentence makes Mary the doer of the action.  In contrast, the passive sentence puts the object up front which requires the addition of two weak and unnecessary words:  “was” and “by.”  

Passive voice is technically not a grammar error; instead, it is a style choice.  There are times when you might want to focus on the object rather than the doer of the action.  Be aware, however, that in most cases putting the doer up front and eliminating unnecessary words will make your writing more clear and concise.  

As exemplified by the sentence about Mary above, be on the lookout for forms of “to be.”  We use this verb more than any other verb in English, but don’t overuse it.  “To be” is a state of being verb.  When you use forms of “to be” as the engine of your sentence, the sentence doesn’t get very far:

Bill was happy.

In contrast, when you employ active verbs, your sentence have more motion, which creates a better picture for the reader:

Bill smiled broadly and threw his head back as he laughed.

Today’s Challenge:  Mistakes Were Corrected

What is the best way to begin a story?  Select one of the passive sentences below.  Transform the sentence from passive voice to active voice, and expand the sentence into an opening paragraph of a short story.  As you revise, consider the subject of your sentence.  Whenever possible make people the subjects of your sentences, the doers of the action; this will add more life and human interest to your writing.

The groceries were purchased.

The cake was eaten.

The sun was watched.

The test was taken.

The book was thrown.

The poem was written.

The team was booed.

The birthday was celebrated.

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Writing with “be” verbs is like eating cookies:  one cookie is no problem, but 10 in a row is a different matter.  -John Maguire

1-  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=36788

2-Safire, William.  Safire’s Political Dictionary.  Oxford University Press, 2008:  431.

12/6 TAGS Reagan, Ronald, Iran-Contra, voice (active and passive), Grant, Ulysses S., opening sentence, narrative

November 16:  Proverb Day

On this date in 1932, the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1870-1970) published an essay entitled, “On Proverbs.”  For Russell the key characteristic of these proclamations of practical, timeless wisdom is that “they are remarkable for their terseness.”  Proverbs are models of economical writing, short, pithy, and usually anonymous.  As an example, Russell presents “More haste, less speed,” saying that it “could not possibly be said in fewer words.”

While he is impressed with the terseness of proverbs, Russell sees a problem in using them to support an argument:

The great advantage of a proverb in argument is that it is supposed to be incontrovertible, as embodying the quintessential sagacity of our ancestors.  But when once you have realized that proverbs go in pairs which say opposite things you can never again be downed by a proverb; you merely quote the opposite.

So, for example, when one person proclaims “Actions speak louder than words,” the other person can turn to the counter-proverb “The pen is mightier than the sword” (1).

One other notable aspect of proverbs is stated in a definition by philosopher and poet Moses Ebn Ezra:  “[Proverbs have] “three characteristics:  few words, good sense, and a fine image.”  Study the proverbs below, and notice how often they use imagery, usually figurative, to wrap up showing and telling into one tiny, concise package:

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

No man is an island.

Birds of a feather flock together.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Never look a gift horse in the mouth.

The early bird catches the worm.

A watched pot never boils

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

A penny saved is a penny earned.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill.

Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

Today’s Challenge:  A Proverbial Autobiographical Anecdote
What proverb comes to your mind when you think of wisdom you have gained based on your life experiences so far?  Write an anecdote about an incident from your life that illustrates the truth of a single proverb.  Just as Aesop told short fables followed by terse statements of general truths, follow your anecdote with the proverb that the anecdote illustrates.  Once you have finished, read your anecdote to a friend to see if he/she can guess the proverb before you reveal it.

Quotation of the Day:  Proverbs are short sentences drawn from long experience.  -Miguel de Cervantes

1-Russell, Bertrand.  Mortals and Others, 1932:  133-34.

 

 

November 9:  Cold War Day

On this date in 1989, the East German Communist Party opened the Berlin Wall, allowing citizens of East Berlin to freely cross the border that had separated East and West Berlin since the wall went up in 1961.  That night crowds swarmed the wall and some, armed with picks and hammers, began to dismantle the wall, which had stood as the most powerful symbol of the Cold War.

Berlinermauer.jpgn 1989 several eastern European nations of the Soviet Union carried out successful anti-Communist revolutions, winning greater autonomy and the right to hold multiparty elections.  By December 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist and the Cold War was officially over (1).

The term “Cold War” was coined on April 16, 1947, when Bernard Baruch, advisor to presidents on economic and foreign policy, used the term in an address he gave to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Invited to speak in his home state, Baruch selected the topic of the struggle between the two post-World War II superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union:

Let us not be deceived, we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system.; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us. We can depend only on ourselves. (2)

Baruch’s term stuck as an apt description of the hostilities between the West and the East that spawned a nuclear arms race but fell short of armed conflict. Below are other words and terms that became a part of the Cold War lexicon, according the book Twentieth Century Words (3):

Atom Bomb (1945)

fall out (1950)

N.A.T.O. (1950)

deterrent (1954)

conventional weapons (1955)

ICBM (1955)

unilateralism (1955)

Warsaw Pact (1955)

mushroom cloud (1958)

nuke (1959)

Hot and Cold Running Idioms

Below are descriptions of expressions that contain either the word hot or cold. Given the number of words in each expression along with a description, see if you can name the phrase:

  1. Four words: Newly printed; sensational and exciting.
  1. Two words: Immediate, complete withdrawal from something, especially an addictive substance.
  1. Two words: Trouble or difficulty.
  1. Two words: Retreat from an undertaking; lose one’s nerve.
  1. Two words: Deliberate disregard, slight, or snub.
  1. Four words: Extremely angry.
  1. Four words: In a position of extreme stress, as when subjected to harsh criticism.
  1. Five words: To cause one to shiver from fright or horror. (4)

Today’s Challenge:  Hot Potatoes and Cold Turkey

What words, phrases, or titles come to mind when you hear the word “hot” or “cold”?  Brainstorm a list of words, phrases, or titles (songs, movies, or books) that you associate with either “hot” or “cold.” Try to generate at least 20 ideas.  Then, select the one idea that sparks a writing idea, and write a poem, story, or essay on your idea.  Use the word “hot” or “cold” in your title. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything. –Billy Graham

 

Answers: 1. Hot off the presses 2. Cold turkey 3. Hot water 4. Cold feet 5. cold shoulder 6. Hot under the collar 7. In the hot seat 8. Make one’s blood run cold.

1-http://www.atomicarchive.com/History/coldwar/page22.shtml

2-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bernard-baruch-coins-the-term-cold-war

3- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

4 – Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

 

November 7:  Meaning in Myth Day

Today is the birthday of the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960).  Camus was born in Algeria, a French colony, and was active in the French resistance in World War II, writing for an underground newspaper.  Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 for his fiction, specifically his novels:  The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Rebel (1951).

Albert Camus, gagnant de prix Nobel, portrait en buste, posé au bureau, faisant face à gauche, cigarette de tabagisme.jpgThough he never called himself an existentialist, Camus is often associated with the post-World War II philosophical movement which places the individual struggle for meaning above any other meaning that might be found in religion or society.  The major theme of  Camus’ writing was the absurd — or the paradox of the absurd:  the idea that individuals have an innate desire to live a life that has meaning while at the same time realizing that ultimately life has no meaning.

To help his readers understand these somewhat abstract ideas, Camus wrote a philosophical essay in 1942 entitled “The Myth of Sisyphus,”  where he retells the ancient Greek myth as a way of making meaning of the plight of modern man.

Sisyphus, the King of Corinth, was condemned by the gods to an eternity of rolling a huge rock to the top of a mountain.  Once the rock reached the top, it would then roll back down to the bottom, where once again Sisyphus would commence the fruitless and futile task of rolling it back to the top.  Camus calls Sisyphus “the absurd hero” because, although he knows he must forever push his rock up the hill and then watch it roll back down the mountain, he embraces his fate.  By doing this “he is superior to his fate.”  In this way Sisyphus exemplifies the nobility and courage of the individual who even in the face of a hostile universe, strives for his own purpose.  Camus parallels Sisyphus’ labor with that of the modern worker:

The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and this fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

Today’s Challenge:  Modern Meaning in Myth

What characters from mythology would you say tap most clearly into a universal theme of human existence, such as love, hate, change, evil, or freedom?  How do the characters’ story relate to the themes, and how do the characters’ story parallel the plight of modern humans?  Brainstorm some names of characters from mythology.  To get you started, here are a few characters from Greek mythology:

Odysseus

Tantalus

Prometheus

Pandora

Persephone

Oedipus

Narcissus

Select one character from your list, and identify a universal theme which can be extracted from the character’s story.  Then, like Camus did with Sisyphus, give meaning to your myth by retelling the character’s story in your own words, explaining the universal theme that is found in the story, and paralleling the character’s experience to the lives of modern humans. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them. -Albert Camus

1-Camus, Albert.  “The Myth of Sisyphus”

November 3:  Dogs in Space Day

On this day in 1957, the USSR launched the satellite Sputnik 2 into orbit. Aboard the spacecraft was the first ever living being launched into space, a female terrier named Laika.  Just four weeks earlier the Russians had shocked the world by launching the first-ever satellite, Sputnik I on October 3, 1957.

The launches of the two Sputnik satellites lead to a crisis in the United States as leaders feared Soviet domination of space.  In July 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and in September 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which poured billions of dollars into the U.S. education system.

Russia was successful in launching the first human, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin,  into space on April 12, 1961; however, the United States proclaimed victory in the Space Race when NASA’s Apollo program landed a man on the Moon on July 20, 1969 (see July 20:  Antithesis Day).

Going to the Dogs

English is replete with idioms (expressions that don’t make sense when taken literally) related to dogs. And it is interesting to note that despite the dog’s reputation for being “man’s best friend,” most of the expressions use dogs in the negative sense. For example, they are used as scapegoats for missing homework: “My dog ate my homework.” They are associated with sickness: “Sick as a dog.” And they are even used to characterize life in general as harsh and cutthroat: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

Use the clues below to identify the eight dog-related idioms. For each idiom, you are given the number of words in the expression and a brief literal translation of the meaning of the idiom as it might be used in everyday speech.

  1. Five words: Don’t make something unimportant the most important thing.
  2. Five words: You’re searching in the wrong place.
  3. Four words: My feet are very tired.
  4. Four words: My wife is very mad at me.
  5. Seven words: He’s not really as mean as he seems.
  6. Eight words: Some people will never change.
  7. Four words: Don’t remind him of your past conflicts.
  8. Five words: Every person is successful at something at some point in his/her life.

Today’s Challenge:  Giving the Dog His Day
What words, phrases, or titles come to mind when you hear the word “dog”?What is your favorite dog-based writing topic, either literal or figurative? Brainstorm a list of words, phrases, or titles that you associate with dogs.  Try to generate at least 20 ideas.  Then, select the one idea that sparks a writing idea, and write a poem, story, or essay on your idea.  Use the word “dog” in your title. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment. -Caroline Knapp

 

Answers: 1. The tail wagging the dog 2. Barking up the wrong tree. 3. My dogs are barking  4. In the dog house 5. His bark is worse than his bite 6. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. 7. Let sleeping dogs lie. 8. Every dog has its day

 

November 1:  Art Imitates Life Day

On this date in 1866, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky met a very important deadline.  Based on the terms of his contract with his publisher, Dostoyevsky would either deliver his completed novel on November 1, 1866 or his publisher would be given complete rights to his works, without compensation, for the next nine years.  Clearly entering into such a contract was a gamble, but then Dostoyevsky had a reputation as a gambler.  After all, the reason he agreed to a contract with such stark terms was because he was desperate for money to pay off his gambling debts.

Vasily Perov - Портрет Ф.М.Достоевского - Google Art Project.jpgWhen Dostoyevsky began work on his novel on October 4, 1866, he had just 26 days to finish.  To assist him, he hired a stenographer, a woman named Anna Grigorievna whom he would later marry.  They met daily.  Dostoyevsky dictated the story to Grigorievna, and on November 1st, two hours before the deadline, the complete manuscript was delivered to the publisher.

The title of Dostoyevsky’s novel is appropriately The Gambler, and its plot revolves around several desperate characters winning and losing at the roulette table.  In the novel art imitates life as the author’s addiction to roulette is the focus of his novel’s plot.

Today’s Challenge
What anecdote from your life would be worthy of adapting to fiction?  Just as Dostoyevsky used his life experiences, his passions, and his misfortunes for his fiction, the challenge here is to take something from your life and adapt it into a fictional anecdote.  Once you have an actual incident, transform it into fiction by creating a character in a specific setting.  Decide also on a point of view – 1st person or 3rd person (limited or omniscient).  Then, write your anecdote.  Base the plot of your anecdote on the facts of your experience, but also use your poetic license as a fiction writer to embellish the facts. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life. -Oscar Wilde     

1-Nissley, Tom.  Reader’s Book of Days.  New York:  W. W. Norton, 2014:  315.

October 26:  Four Word Film Review Day

On this date in 1999, a web developer named Benj Clews had a brief but ingenious idea.  Clews wanted to create a web site for movie reviews, but he wanted it to be different.  His idea was to limit the movie reviews to four words or fewer.  That same year he created the website Four Word Film Review, which in the internet tradition of crowdsourcing, invites readers to submit their reviews.  Most of the reviews at www.fwfr.com are not so much reviews as they are new titles, but the fun comes in the wonderful wordplay that results. Puns, alliteration, and adaptations of other film titles are all a part of the creative writing game of making every word count.

For example, here are seven examples of reviews for the film Jaws:

Gulp fiction

Shaw shark retention

Jurassic shark

Shooting barrel in fish

Gil against island

Diet: fish and ships

Amity’s vile horror

Below are ten four word reviews. See if you can identify the titles before you look at the answers listed below:

  1. World’s survival chance: slim
  2. Lion, witch, wide road
  3. Twist ending sleighs me
  4. Song of sam
  5. Ford. Explorer.
  6. If the shoe fits . . .
  7. Humans make bad batteries
  8. Small medium, large twist
  9. Original space ‘n Vader.
  10. Fish finds friends, anemones (1)

Reading four word movie reviews is fun in itself, but there is also something to be learned here. Shakespeare said that ‘Brevity is the soul of wit.’ In other words, the essence of good writing is economy. As you read four word reviews and begin to write your own, you’ll learn that wordplay can be hard work, but the rewards are satisfying for both you, the writer, and your readers. Also read newspaper headlines and notice how headline writers work with the same kind of wordplay to attract the reader’s attention. A good title is vital, so when you write an essay, take some time to write a short, but sweet, title of four words or fewer.

Today’s Challenge:  Four Word – Fantastic Flair
What movie or book would you sum up in four words or fewer?  Create your own four word film reviews. But don’t stop with movies. Write a four word review of your favorite book. Read newspaper headlines and notice how headline writers work with the same kind of wordplay to attract the reader’s attention. A good title is vital, so when you write an essay, take some time to write a short, but sweet title of four words or fewer. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  The four most important words in the English language and in leadership are:  “What do you think?” – Bill Marriott

  1. Dr. Strangelove, 2. The Wizard of Oz, 3. Citizen Cane, 4. Casablanca, 5. Raiders of the Lost Ark, 6. Cinderella, 7. The Matrix, 8. The Sixth Sense, 9. Star Wars, 10. Finding Nemo

1-Clews, Benj and Michael Onesi.  Four Word Film Reviews.  Massachusetts:  Adams Media, 2010.

October 25:  History Into Verse Day

On this date in two different years, 1415 and 1854 , a historical battle was immortalized in verse.

Schlacht von Azincourt.jpgThe first was the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 in which the outnumbered English army defeated the French in a major battle of the Hundred Years War.  The battle took place on Saint Crispin’s Day, a feast day honoring the Christian saints Crispin and Crispinian.  The English were lead by King Henry V who joined his soldier in hand-to-hand combat at Agincourt.

Though history does not record exactly what Henry said that day, William Shakespeare, in his play Henry V (Act IV, Scene iii), imagines what Henry might have said to spur the undermanned English to action.  In a speech of 49 lines, Henry expresses his confidence that they will win and that each year as they near St. Crispin’s Day they will look back and remember their glorious victory and the bond they share with their brothers in arms (1).

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.  

More than 400 years later in 1854, Britain and France joined forces against Russia in the Crimean War.  On October 25, 1854 the British Light Brigade under the command of General James Cardigan rode into history.  Following an ambiguous order to charge into a treeless valley surrounded by Russian field artillery, hundreds of British horsemen were mowed down as they swept across the open ground.  Miraculously some of the horsemen managed to temporarily disable the Russian guns and return under fire across what would become known as “the valley of the shadow of death.” The charge, although courageous, resulted in senseless carnage.  Of the 673 British horsemen who began the charge only 198 survived (2).

The British cavalry’s charge was immortalized in verse by Britain’s poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson.  The poet penned the narrative poem on December 2, 1854 after reading an account of the battle in the British newspapers.  On December 9, 1854 the poem entitled “The Charge of the Light Brigade” appeared in The Examiner.

The six-stanza poem immediately became popular, and even today its famous lines capture the plight of common soldiers, nobly and courageously following the orders of their superior:

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

Today’s Challenge:  Make History in Poetry
What historical event would you immortalize in verse?  What makes the event worth remembering?  Brainstorm some events from history that are worthy of being immortalized in verse.  Select the one you like the best, and compose a narrative poem (a la “The Charge of the Light Brigade”) or a speech in verse (a la “The Saint Crispin’s Day speech”). (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55

 

1-March, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365: Your Date With History. Cambridge, UK:  Icon Books, 2004: 526-7.

2- March, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  366: A Leap Year of Great Stories. Cambridge, UK:  Icon Books, 2007: 342.