Gandalf And Saruman: The Tale Of Tolkien’s Two White Wizards

The Legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien includes not just The Hobbit, and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, but also The Silmarillion. Altogether this is the legendarium, and within it are invented languages, histories, and stunning characters; but the real beauty of Tolkien’s Middle Earth is the thick allegory everywhere within it. The characters of Tolkien’s world have a lot to teach us.

All of Tolkien’s main characters forever face a choice, and a dilemma. They have the choice to cave in to their own desires, or to instead, overcome their weaknesses in order to do the right thing. Perhaps these dilemmas and choices are seen most clearly in the two wizards within the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Gandalf, and Saruman.

Now before we go further I should state that there were not just two wizards in the Tolkien legendarium, there were, in fact, five wizards – but only the two most powerful of them play a major role in The Lord Of The Rings. In The Hobbit.only one is a character in middle of the fray.

So just what are these wizards? Well, there is a very definite answer to that, and the answer is….they are wizards. They are not beings that are of the same kind as the other races of or species of persons inhabiting Middle Earth. The wizards are not Hobbits, they are not men, they are not dwarves, and they are not elves.

The Tolkien based films by Peter Jackson are terrific films, but they do not, even with the extended director’s versions, tell the whole tale. Tolkien’s legendarium world is just too big for film, it can only truly be seen in the mind of a reader. Peter Jackson’s films, however, not making it exactly clear just what the wizards were isn’t to be faulted over much. Tolkien himself never made it very clear in The Hobbit, or the Lord Of The Rings trilogy what the wizards were either.

One must read the ENTIRE legendarium to know, and that means, of course, reading The Silmarillion.

While there is literally nothing at all I can detect that is overtly Christian in the legendarium of J.R.R. Tolkien, Mr. Tolkien himself was most certainly a Christian, and a very close friend of another well known author of thickly allegorical fantasy fiction, C.S. Lewis. So in the end, there are many a metaphor in the works of Tolkien that can be related directly to something Biblical. One has to actually be looking to see those metaphor, and that was probably intentional, as universal themes are a bit more appealing to even the Christians when escaping into such a fascinating work of world building as the Tolkien novels provides.

Simply put – the five wizards are somewhat like the Biblical angels, some are more powerful or less powerful than others, but these, the Istari, are clothed in flesh, and in the appearance of men.

One thing important for the reader to understand about the world of Tolkien’s legendarium is that Middle Earth is a large continent in that world, but not the entire world. Middle Earth is merely were the most of the action takes place. Only the dwarves, the hobbits, and men are from Middle Earth, the other characters are actually from somewhere else entirely – a place referred to as the undying lands.



“Undying Lands? What is that?”

Well, the undying lands are where the lesser “gods” live. In Tolkien’s legendarium, there is most certainly a creator God, and that creator created various and sundry lesser gods, and all manner of other eternal spirits that may or may not be trapped in or inhabiting a body of flesh. Tolkien’s elves are also originally from the “undying lands,” and throughout The Lord Of The Rings, a major underlying theme is the elves are leaving Middle Earth to return there, they are turning over reign of Middle Earth to mankind.

There is absolutely no reason at all for the lover of Tolkien’s work to also know the Bible, however, one could make a case that “the elves” are rather like the progeny of the angels of the Bible having been cross bred with mankind. In the Bible, of course, it was demonic angels that bred with mankind – so there are always twists in such comparisons.

Let us return our focus now to the subject at hand, the two white wizards of the Tolkien legendarium.

In December 2012 the world will get the first part of the second series of helpings offered up by Peter Jackson in regards to the work of Tolkien set to film. The first film for The Hobbit will be released then, and the viewers will all be soon introduced to Gandalf The Grey, a bumbling old fellow that always seems to know a hell of a lot more than he is willing to say.

In The Hobbit, Gandalf seems near omniscient at times, as he orchestrates events he is certain will turn out right. He is here, and he is there. He appears, and then he is gone, and nobody much ever realizes just when he slipped away.

There is, in The Hobbit, mention of a mysterious and evil being known only as “the necromancer,” and this, of course, turns out in the end to be Sauron, who manifests himself in The Lord Of The Rings as a great eye of fire. The five wizards were entirely sent to Middle Earth for a single solitary purpose, and that was to help the beings of Middle Earth contend with this Sauron, who can for all intents and practical purposes be thought of as something like the Biblical Satan.

Of the five wizards, only Gandalf really sticks to his mission. While it is likely that all five were very much afraid of the much more powerful Sauron, only Gandalf, who was initially thought to be the second most powerful of the wizards, faces his fears, and overcomes them.

Concerning Gandalf, the official description from the legendarium is as follows:

Warm and eager was his spirit (and it was enhanced by the ring Narya), for he was the Enemy of Sauron, opposing the fire that devours and wastes with the fire that kindles, and succours in wanhope and distress; but his joy, and his swift wrath, were veiled in garments grey as ash, so that only those that knew him well glimpsed the flame that was within. Merry he could be, and kindly to the young and simple, yet quick at times to sharp speech and the rebuking of folly; but he was not proud, and sought neither power nor praise… Mostly he journeyed unwearingly on foot, leaning on a staff, and so he was called among Men of the North Gandalf ‘the Elf of the Wand’. For they deemed him (though in error) to be of Elven-kind, since he would at times work wonders among them, loving especially the beauty of fire; and yet such marvels he wrought mostly for mirth and delight, and desired not that any should hold him in awe or take his counsels out of fear. … Yet it is said that in the ending of the task for which he came he suffered greatly, and was slain, and being sent back from death for a brief while was clothed then in white, and became a radiant flame (yet veiled still save in great need)

Of Tolkien’s wizards, Gandalf was not thought to be either the wisest or the most powerful, but perhaps he was always BOTH the wisest, and most powerful. Gandalf, was humble, and so he was elevated over the pride filled, jealous, and power hungry Saruman. While Gandalf was well known to all races or species of “people’s” on Middle Earth, he was also very in touch with the natural world, the flora and fauna were things he respected greatly, and this, perhaps, was why he was so forever interested in the creatures that seemed the very least of significance, hobbits.

Hobbits, having had no real significance in the events of Middle Earth at all before Gandalf saw something in them; were known for simple pleasures, eating, drinking, singing and dancing, and growing things. They had no kind of government, needed none, and were rather keen on staying out of everything, and enjoying their lives. The perfect sort of values that lead one to doing the most noble of deeds, but the proud and the self deemed wise never see such things. The truly wise, of course, do.

Without getting too thick into the details and the differences between the novels by Tolkien and the adaptation for film by Peter Jackson, suffice it to say that Gandalf sacrificed himself for his friends, and for the entire world – not for any surety of their success, but merely to provide a chance that they might succeed. In doing so. He faced a demonic thing that was easily his equal, and he overcame it, transcending himself to become Gandalf The White.

Saruman is a classic fallen angel, pride, of course, was his failure. Literally, his entire presence in Tolkien’s novels mirror’s that of the character Sauron, who Saruman and the other wizards were sent to Middle Earth to combat, not admire. Saruman’s very name meant man of skill, and he excelled at technological things, chemistry and metalwork.

Saruman is so intelligent and powerful that he is widely regarded by all as the White Wizard, one of the wisest and most powerful entities of all within Middle Earth, but whether or not he was ever that is something left up to the reader to decide. Gandalf had saw him as a superior mind, and wiser than himself, and as Gandalf humbled himself, he wound up being elevated above Saruman.

While all of Tolkien’s wizards are of the same order of spiritual beings, Saruman, the pride filled industrialist, thinks the rest of them are stupid. Radagast The Brown, who Gandalf says is his cousin, Saruman hated from the start. Radagast, of course, was the wizard that dedicated himself to flora and fauna, which are obviously the polar opposites of the mind the creature Treebeard described as “of wheels and metal,” Saruman.

So far as the rings of power are concerned, Saruman was intensely jealous of Gandalf, as he knows that Gandalf was given one of the three rings of power designed by and for the elves. Sauron, of course, created a ring of power that surpassed all others, and was THE Lord Of The Rings.

Rather than seek to do what he was sent to do, and use his vast knowledge and wisdom towards the purpose he’d once had, Saruman fell prey to jealousy, pride, and fear. He was too proud of his own skill to find any value in nature, or seemingly weak creatures like hobbits, and he was too jealous of Gandalf’s ring of power to think straight. Saruman was also too afraid of Sauron to imagine defeating him, and so he rather fell into admiring him, as Sauron was, of course, more powerful and talented than any of the wizards.

The wonderful films of Peter Jackson, endorsed by the Tolkien family, are not entirely accurate, as changes were made for the film versions of The Lord Of The Rings, and most surely, there will be some slight changes as well within the upcoming Peter Jackson adaptations for The Hobbit.



We shouldn’t be too hard on Mr. Peter Jackson, in my opinion, he is doing a very fine job, and there won’t be anyone more exited about the new film about Bilbo Baggins’ adventures come December, Lord willing, and should the creeks not rise too much.

Besides changing some minor parts of the plot, Jackson also omits some things that we Tolkien lovers must surely find troublesome, but I’m willing to forget those things too because of the extreme quality of what Jackson has already produced.

The film clips I’ve shared here have been edited even further, but I did not do that, and so far as whoever did do it is concerned, I’m practically positive they had to edit the originals in order to not violate some silly corporation’s codes.

Finally, corporations – it is impossible to measure just how vast are the gaps between the minds of some silly egomaniac with zero grip on reality as Ayn Rand, and a master such as Tolkien.

Were Ayn Rand the author of The Lord Of The Rings, then surely Sauron and Saruman would be the John Galt-ish heroes of a decaying industrialized Middle Earth where nobody cares about the Earth itself, or silly moochers and parasites such as hobbits, who do nothing but eat, drink, dance, and enjoy all that the God of creation has given them.

Thanks for reading.

Français Et Japonais En Indochine (1940-1945) – an Analysis of Propaganda With Its Own Blindspots

France used to control Indochina, with the tricolor flag floating over Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia, its principal colony in the Far East. Controlling a strategic location and with important production of rice, rubber, and coal, this colony was a tempting target for the expanding Japanese Empire, and when France lost the Battle of France to Germany in 1940, the Japanese were left with a golden opportunity to take advantage of the French situation of distress in Indochina. However, they did not do so through a full out conquest and occupation of Indochina, but rather through cooperation with the French, gaining basing rights, a friendly administration, and economic cooperation in exchange for leaving the French colony intact. Both sides however, were anxious to secure through own position in Indochina and to influence both the other and also the Indochinese people about their own rightful position and the unfortunate nature of the other – although in all cases, it had to be done without formally decrying their real target. This is the subject of Chizuru Namba’s book Français et Japonais en Indochine (1940-1945) : Colonisation, propagande, et rivalité culturelle which is devoted to exploring this fascinating period in French and Japanese colonial history and the history of Indochina.

The first chapter, “Les relations entre le Japon et l’Indochine française” deals with the subject of the Japanese relationship to Vietnamese nationalists, receiving a mercurial reception in Japan. It also deals with Franco-Japanese cooperation to restrain just such a nationalist threat, emanating from Korea and Vietnam – a fascinating topic showing joint imperial assistance. It then continues with the Japanese occupation of Indochina and the diplomacy and issues surrounding this. followed by events during the war and finally the 9 March 1945 coup which put an end to French Indochina.

Chapter 2, “Les Français in Indochina”, looks at the material conditions, thoughts, and loyalties of the French residents of Indochina. As compared to their compatriots in France, the French in Indochina enjoyed a very easy life, but a precarious one, being a tiny, privileged, minority in a sea of native people. Although they did suffer from certain shortages and rises in the cost of living, they were much more sheltered from this than the indigenous population. Not all were Pétanist and most were quite politically ambiguous or ambivalent, but many were enrolled in the Légion française des combattants et volontaires de la Révolution nationale to attempt to encourage loyalty to Vichy, and Gaulists were hunted down, and a tight supervision of society instigated. However, over time the explicitly pro-Vichy measures began to be toned down as the Axis began to lose the war. A unifying theme was the rejection of “assimilation” and a preferred new respect for Indochinese societies and culture, well in accordance with Vichy’s policy.

“Rivalité et cohabitation au quotidien entre Français et Japonais” as Chapter 3 deals with the everyday encounters between the French and Japanese in Indochina, where the Japanese presence was alternatively perceived as overbearing or nonexistant. The French tried to avoid excessive Japanese presence in the country, but inevitably there was mingling between Indochina’s inhabitants and the Japanese. There were many incidents between the French and the Japanese which both sides tried to resolve pacifically, but these often involved the native population, where both sides tried to gain their appreciation and support – the Japanese protecting their sympathizers, although not always universally endearing themselves, and the French trying to increase their popularity with the indigenous people. These locals suffered increasing economic hardships and damages from the war and were disappointed in the Japanese who had allied themselves with the French rather than liberating them.

Chapter 4, La propagande: enjeux et pratiques begins to dive into the main subject of the book, discussing the nature of propaganda in French Indochina. For France, this focused on stressing the similarities between the révolution nationale of Vichy, its conservative political ideology, and traditional East Asian moral doctrines, the idea of Indochina, French efforts to help the Indochinese, and the firm cooperation between the French and Japanese, doing so through the radio, press, posters, film, and information bureaus, all examined in their tour It wanted to avoid racial solidarity between the Japanese and Indochinese, to prevent the perception of France as decadent, ideas of Indochinese independence, and other things that would harm French prestige – doing so through the usage of censorship. The French focused on the Anglo-Saxons as the greatest enemy, while strictly preventing any anti-Japanese line, relying on an indirect war of propaganda for the hearts and minds of Indochinese. The Japanese had no access to their own newspapers in Indochina but did use the radio, although they too did not have their own radio station and used French radios. as well as movie theaters (generally these without much success), and they called for the solidarity of the Asian people and decried the Anglo-Saxon, as well as lauding the Greater East Asian Prosperity Sphere and Asian morality compared to Western decadence. Like the French however, it never made direct accusations against their counterpart. Their most deadly insult of all was also the most subtle: to simply ignore the French and their presence, an obsolete thing bound to disappear. After the coup of March 9th, the Japanese and French were free to critique each other, doing so with gusto, with the Vietnamese and Vietnamese communist voices also increasingly joining the fray.

The 5th chapter “La politique culturelle française en Indochine” relates the subject of French efforts to win Indochinese sympathy and support in their cultural policy. This stressed the new regime’s support for traditional values shared in both East and West, and focused on youth activities in sports and various associations to gain their loyalty. The union with France was emphasized, although not always in traditional ways of French strength – the Secours national was a donations campaign to donate to help the damaged French metropole, portraying France as in need – a dramatic reversal from previous periods. The French tried hard to promote an idea of Indochinese federalism, based on universities, sporting tours, student exchanges, a federal council, and expositions about Indochina. The French also tried to restore the prestige and authority of the Mandarins and notables of the former elite classes, focusing on traditional Chinese culture and an end to elections in the favor of the aristocracy. In literary terms, a rediscovery of traditional Vietnamese patriotism – but not nationalism – was encouraged. Conversely, in Cambodia and Laos, their modernization was encouraged. Joan of Arc was celebrated alongside the Trung sisters, to show the union of France and Vietnam. There was a natural downside to this: this focus on respect for local cultures naturally played into the hands of Japan’s ideal on pan-Asian unity and patriotism could become nationalism very quickly indeed.

The final content chapter, “Tentative d’implantation de la culture japonaise et concurrence franco-japonaise” examines the other side, as the Japanese tried to play up their own culture – appealing both to the French and to the Indochinese. The Japanese sought to spread their culture and language in the South-East Asian countries, while respecting local cultures. The Japanese established cultural associations in Indochina, diffusing Japanese culture and language to the Indochinese and conducting research on Indochina. The Japanese created cultural exchanges with Japanese and French or seemingly much more rarely Indochinese specialists and personages visiting Indochina or Japan respectively, as well as the exchange of students and artists and Japanese expositions in Indochina. Indochina in effect acted as a stand-in for France in cultural relations with Japan, so long as France itself was cut off. There was a controversy on the Japanese side however: were their objectives to have themselves and their culture recognized as equal by the French, or rather to gain the sympathy of the Indochinese? The Japanese never managed to resolve this conundrum. They did however, establish many schools for their language, although this ran into difficulties of establishment and French organizational opposition.

The conclusion largely consists of a summary of the book’s content.

There has been an increasing amount of interest devoted to Vichy France and its colonies it would seem, above all else in Vichy sous les tropiques. This book involved its own section about Vietnam and the attempt by the French to attempt to leverage Vietnamese loyalty to the French colonial project and cement them to France during the war years. Some of this clearly shows through into Français et Japonais en Indochine, with french efforts to encourage scouting and education of young Vietnamese notables, and in the promotion of both local nationalism and the concept of an Indochina. But there is much else which is available to be discovered here. The author uses his comfortable ability to deal with both Japanese and French sources, and too Vietnamese ones, as well as keen sense of objectives and rationales.The fact that even radio sources, doubtless extremely difficult to access were used, speaks to the tremendous degree of research bound up in this project.

This can be seen on the French side with the identification of key trends such as the effort to promote an Indochinese identity, standing midway between local nationalism and a broader imperial identity, with continual emphasis of this policy – from an education strategy that promoted common Indochinese participation, to a tour indochinois, exchanges between students of the different colonies, and Indochinese expositions. Imperial solidarity with the Secours national, aiming to generate donations to help the suffering French of the metropole back in France, is also a theme which is well explored, and one which reversed previous representations of France as strong and powerful, and instead in this case made her a suffering creature for whom sympathy was to be encouraged.

The relationships between the Japanese and French are excellently analyzed as well, and includes some incisive observations, such as looking at the frustration on the part of some Japanese at their targeting of the French rather than the Indochinese natives. The interest of the Japanese as presenting themselves as the cultural equals of the French, and of the role that Indochina played in representing France when the motherland was cut off in cultural exchanges with Japan, is brilliantly explored.

Within the colony itself, Namba does a very good job of looking at the ways in which the French position and French mentalities varied over time, adjusting with the course of the war – and showing that the colony was very different than a simple bastion of Vichy thought, and that rather it evolved and demonstrated clear responsiveness to Gaullist appeals, with a steady reduction of Marshall Pétain’s presence in public life after the course of the war began to turn against Vichy France, and that the attitude of the French residents of Indochina could be at times termed rather indifferent to the révolution nationale, a stark difference from the picture which is sometimes given of colonists who were eager for a reactionary government to settle old scores with the colonized – although doubtless, there really were plenty of those. In fact the extensive material which is dedicated within to the mindset and opinion of the broader mass of the French residents is in of itself a valuable work, one which is exceedingly interesting.

Unfortunately the book neglects to write very much at all about what the actual impact was of this conflict of propaganda between the French, Japanese, and to a very limited extent, the Vietnamese Communist contribution. There is great effort which is taken to show that there was a fierce battle for the opinions of the Indochinese natives, and indeed even for the French as the Japanese attempted to convince them too that they were a civilized people equivalent in rank to the perceived majesties of French civilization, but there is painfully little which actually notes what the effects were of this propaganda. Are we to simply assume that there was nothing of note which transpired as a result of this? Vichy sous les tropiques, despite its shorter length dedicated to Indochina itself, laid out a clear result of French policy in Indochina – the strengthening of nationalist sentiments on the part of the masses of Indochina, in particular in Vietnam, the ironic result of French efforts to encourage patriotism as part of the révolution nationale. There is no real general conclusion which is drawn which is equivalent in Français et Japonais en Indochine: by contrast it is willing to simply recount what happened, and then to leave the reader without any broader analysis. It makes for a book which is much less ambitious than it could have been.

Furthermore, the book lacks for illustrations and documents, which in light of the excellent cover photo – Résultat de la Collaboration nippo-franco-indochinoise – is really quite sad, since there is surely some excellent material available.

Overall, this is an excellent book, the result of many years of well done research, and which sheds much light on a topic which otherwise is little covered. It shows a vigorous fight for influence, well explained and in depth, the means in which it was carried out, the various cultural connotations and beliefs – and prejudices – in play, objectives, and the context. For anybody interested in French Indochina’s history, French colonialism, Japanese imperialism, the Second World War and the Pacific Theater, and a long host of other topics, it is a superb book and much to be recommended, tarnished only by the lack of ambition in drawing conclusions.

Forgotten Massacre: The Story of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion and the Wereth 11

On December 16, 1944, the Germans launched their last great offensive against the Western Allies through the Ardennes Forest of eastern Belgium. It would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. Three German Armies attacked a long a 50-mile front. American troops manning the line were thrown into confusion. Even the high command was stunned. Stabilizing the line was first priority and many of the units available were African American. One of them was the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion.

From the battle emerged a multitude of heroes and villains. The brutality rivaled that of the Eastern Front; no quarter was given. Incidents like the Malmedy Massacre became well-known. On the afternoon of December 17, 1944, over 80 GIs who had been taken prisoner were gunned down by men of the 1st SS Panzer Division. Some escaped to spread the story, which led to a steely resolve on the part of American troops. But later that night another massacre occurred that received little attention during or after the war.

Eleven men from the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion were taken prisoner after taking refuge in a Belgian village. They surrendered peacefully to a squad from the 1st SS, and marched out of the village. Upon arriving in a large field along the main road, the men were beaten and finally executed. After the battle, the massacre was investigated but in the whirlwind of post-war politics, it was quickly forgotten. Why was such a horrific act brushed aside? Was it race? All of the men were black. Was it Cold War politics? Taking revenge might anger our former enemies. The reasons are many but when one goes back to examine the massacre, a light begins to shine on the much forgotten role of African American troops during the conflict.

The 333rd Field Artillery Battalion (155mm), like most African-American artillery battalions in the segregated Army, was a non-divisional unit under the command of its Army Corps, in this case, VIII Corps. Two or three of those battalions would be configured into a “Group.” By coincidence, the 333rd’s group was also called the 333rd. It had at various times, both white and black units. At the start of the battle, the group also consisted of the 969th FAB (African American) and the 771st FAB (white). The role of the Corps artillery was as supplemental fire support for the infantry divisions who had their own organic artillery battalions as well. Most of the corps units in the European Theater of Operations used the 155mm howitzer (& Long Tom version), 8 inch howitzer or 4.5 inch gun.

Situated along the Andler-Schonberg Road, east of St. Vith, Beligum, the 333rd FAB had been in position since early October. After the departure of the 2nd Infantry Division the first week of December, it was nominally attached to the 106th Infantry Division who had replaced the 2nd in the sector. The 106th’s infantry regiments were spread out along the Schnee Eifel ridge a few miles east and south of the 333rd. Two observation teams were posted in and around the German village of Bleialf. A liaison officer, Captain John P. Horn, had been assigned to the neighboring 590th Field Artillery of the 106th Infantry Division.

The 333rd had something many of their neighboring units did not have: combat experience. Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harmon Kelsey, a white officer, the Battalion had been in the field since late June ’44, when it landed at Utah Beach. It fired its first shots just hours after arriving. After helping to chase the Germans out of France all summer, it arrived on the German border in late September.

The Battalion’s main gun was the standard M114 155mm howitzer (towed), and it had the standard table of organization, with three firing batteries along with a headquarters battery and service battery. Despite the segregation of the era, some of its junior officers were black. The Battalion had an impressive record, once firing 1500 rounds in a 24 hour period and later capturing a village in France. And for once, a black unit received some recognition when Yank Magazine ran an article devoted entirely to the Battalion in the fall of 1944.

African-American units played a significant role within the Corps artillery structure. There were nine non-divisional black artillery battalions along with four black Group Headquarters in the ETO scattered among several army corps. Many of these were with VIII Corps or would serve sometime under its command in the coming months. Black artillerymen were as highly trained as their white counterparts, and by December 1944, they had become some of the most experienced units in the US Army. Units were shifted according to the needs of a particular battle, so those four black Group HQs, ended up controlling both white and black battalions as the situations demanded.

The other Corps artillery units which had been in the vicinity for some time, such as the black 578th and the white 740th, along with those in the 333rd group, had built up their positions so well that almost every GI was billeted in a log cabin, house, or well-insulated tent. The 578th, down at Burg Reuland, had a bowling alley built and regular visits from the Red Cross Clubmobiles. Regular leave was instituted to either Paris or cities in Belgium. For African-American soldiers in a segregated army, morale was high and conditions mirrored that of their white counterparts.

On the 16th, with the scope of the Battle still unknown and weather worsening, Corps ordered A and B Battery to displace west of the Our river with the rest of their group, eventually moving south into Bastogne. C Battery along with Service Battery and the Battalion HQ staff were to remain in place for now at the request of General McMahon, the division artillery officer of the 106th. He believed their fire support would be needed in case of a withdrawal.

As shells flew over the river, and some falling just in front of their positions off and on all morning, C Battery began receiving calls from the observers in Bleialf for support, which they were able to provide almost immediately. The Germans expected to take the village by noon. C Battery and its commander, Captain George MacCloud, were to play a large part in the defense of the Schnee Eifel this first day of the battle, helping to deny the Germans a permanent foothold in Bleialf. It would take the Germans another 24 hours to finally expel the Americans and cross the Our River, which lay just 4 miles away.

MacCloud, an Oklahoma native, had one of the toughest jobs an officer could have in a segregated Army. He was a white officer in command of black troops. Not only did he need to relate to his men, whose life experiences were polar opposites of his own, but he had to earn the respect of other white officers who often looked down on those in his position. MacCloud certainly had the respect of his men. Newark, New Jersey native Sergeant George Schomo, called MacCloud a great commander, a man’s man and someone he would have followed anywhere.

There was no immediate concern about encirclement. Being fairly close to the river and its heavy, stone bridges would enable them to get out quickly if needed. With its other batteries already on the move, they assumed it would be only a matter of time before the orders came down to move out.

Other Corps artillery units were given march orders within hours, although in some cases, they first had to stand and fight. The men of the 578th, whose batteries were well forward, had to pick up M-1 Garands and fight as infantry to hold off the onslaught, taking 12 prisoners. Despite the stern defense, by nightfall these units had to continue their preparations to displace and move out as fast as possible. Time was of the essence. The growing traffic jam on the road to St. Vith was starting to become a crisis.

Down at Bleialf, the two forward observer groups from the 333rd FAB had their outposts on the edge of the village and held their ground. One was led by Lieutenant Reginald Gibson, and the other by Lieutenant Elmer King. Whenever communication allowed, they kept identifying targets for any artillery battery that would listen. Both groups managed to stay at their posts until 0600 the next day. It was a remarkable achievement considering they were almost completely surrounded by the enemy for nearly 24 hours.

On the early morning of the 17th, uncertainty reigned. Before first light, the men of C Battery tried to have some breakfast while the sound of tank treads and small arms fire echoed everywhere. Fog obscured observation. Their radios were filled with frantic calls from the infantry. The Germans seemed to be everywhere. Still the men were waiting on word from Corps to displace. It was too late. At 1000 hours German armor appeared along the Andler Road in front of C battery. German infantry began pouring out of the woods. It was every man for himself. Most had no time to escape. A few groups managed to make it into the woods. Roaming around the dark woods of the Ardennes with its muddy paths and steep, slippery hills slowed them down considerably.

A small band headed south toward Schonberg, but the Germans were already there. After seizing the village, the Germans were waiting for any Americans trying to cross the bridge. The 333rd survivors had made to the east bank of the Our River and made their way out of the village. As they trekked up the road, they encountered a convoy from the 589th Field Artillery (106th ID) and warned the drivers that there were Germans all over the village. They were ignored. As the Americans made their way over the bridge, a German tank opened fire. Two trucks were hit and several men killed. The men tried to scatter but were forced to surrender soon after.

A few other survivors kept moving east, deciding to link up with the 106th’s infantry regiments scattered in the hills. By the evening of the 19th, they too were prisoners as were most of the 422nd and 423rd infantry regiments of the 106th.

But a small group from Service Battery and C Battery headed west over the Our, trying to reach American lines, which were still within reach. It was bitter cold and they were soaked from the freezing rain that fell most of the day. They tried to stay just inside the tree line, keeping their eyes and ears open for any sounds of Americans; none appeared. After six hours of marching and with darkness approaching, the men were left with no other choice. They decided to ask for help. In the early evening of the 17th, the eleven men made it to the tiny village of Wereth, just northeast of St. Vith where they were taken in by Mathias and Maria Langer. Unfortunately, it was no safe haven.

A German sympathizer in the village informed on them. Sometime later, a patrol from the 1st SS approached the house, and the GIs surrendered peacefully. They were led out of the village to a small, muddy field. Over the next several hours, all eleven were tortured, beaten and shot dead. In January, a patrol from the 99th Infantry Division was directed to the site by villagers. What they found was horrific. Legs had been broken. Many had bayonet wounds to the head. Skulls crushed. Even some of their fingers were cut off. Army investigators were called to the site along with signal corps cameramen to record the grisly find.

The following soldiers were murdered at Wereth:

  1. Private Curtis Adams
  2. Corporal Mager Bradley
  3. Private George Davis
  4. Staff Sergeant Thomas Forte
  5. Tech Corporal Robert Green
  6. Private James Leatherwood
  7. Private Nathaniel Moss
  8. Tech Sergeant William Pritchett
  9. Tech Sergeant James Aubrey
  10. Private Due Turner
  11. Private George Molten

May they rest in peace.

No one was ever brought to justice for these crimes. Coming on the heels of the Malmedy Massacre, it went largely undocumented except for a couple of grainy photographs taken by Army investigators. During the investigation into Malmedy after the war, the Army did review the incident at Wereth again. They determined that too much time had gone by to find the perpetrators who had most likely been either killed during the remaining months of the war or been discharged from U.S. custody since surrendering. The case was officially closed in 1947. In an added insult, most of the perpetrators of Malmedy escaped serious punishment too. Their death sentences and life sentences were commuted. By the mid-1950s almost all had been released. As the Cold War ramped up, it was necessary to placate the German public.

Remarkably, the Langers escaped any reprisal from the SS.Some have speculated that in exchange for the information, the person who betrayed the Langers may have extracted a promise from the Germans not to take any retribution. The Langers apparently knew who gave them away, but in a remarkable act of forgiveness never revealed the person’s name. The Germans also may have felt a sort of ethnic kinship with the locals. The Ardennes region of Belgium had been part of Germany up until the end of World War I. It was lost in the Treaty of Versailles.

For many years, the events surrounding the 333rd were largely forgotten. But the Langer family, and other devoted historians would not forget. Dr. Norman Lichtenfeld, the son of a 106th veteran, and the Langer children helped form the U.S. Wereth Memorial Fund. The organization hoped to raise funds for a memorial. Their dreams were realized on May 23, 2004, when a memorial to the “Wereth 11” was formally dedicated near the location of the massacre. It is a simple symbol of sacrifice, placed where the bodies were found. The men have finally gotten their due. Recognition continues to come. Dr. Lichtenfeld is writing the first comprehensive book not only on the 333rd, but on the 969th as well. A TV movie about the massacre premiered in 2011. The increased media attention will definitely help spark interest in a subject that has been neglected way too long.

The 333rd’s A and B battery made it to Bastogne. They joined their fellow segregated unit, the 969th, and contributed mightily to that historic defense. While supporting the 101st Airborne Division, they suffered the highest casualty rate of any artillery unit in the VIII Corps during the siege with six officers and 222 men killed.

One glaring weakness in the American war machine came to the fore during the Battle: a shortage of manpower. The Army suffered over 80,000 casualties during the six weeks of brutal fighting. That’s the equivalent over just over 5 divisions. Getting timely replacements turned out to be a very difficult proposition. Overconfidence in the fall led to many qualified personnel resources going to other theaters and services throughout late 1944. At the start of the 1945, the replacement situation became grave.

This had an unexpected result: some infantry companies became desegregated, if only for a month or two. Towards the end of the battle in late January, “fifth platoons” were formed, made up of black volunteers, mostly from service units and attached to white infantry companies. It was the commander of the Service of Supply Corps (“COMZ”), General John C. Lee, who championed the use of black troops throughout his wartime service. Lee was devoutly religious, and believed in giving African American troops equal rights. He gladly allowed the troops under his command to volunteer for front line duty.

The standard infantry company at the time had four platoons; hence the term fifth platoon. They were given rudimentary retraining to make sure they remembered how to fire an M-1 Garand. Most had been using the M-1 carbine, so it was a big change. Some had heavy weapons training, and there was some instruction on tactics; then off they went. Of course, they had white officers leading them. By war’s end, black platoons were used in ten armored and infantry divisions in the European Theater including the 106th as well as the famous 1st Infantry Division. After the war the use of black platoons was evaluated. Interviews were conducted with the white officers they served under along with the assessments of their battalion commanders. All gave them high grades. It became a leading factor in desegregating the Army, which finally occurred in 1948.

World War II became an impetus for social change in the United States. Women got the chance to work in highly technical fields, the average American was able to travel the world and most importantly, a large group of Americans who had been marginalized by the majority finally received some recognition for their contributions. This well-earned respect paid dividends when they came home. Within ten years the Civil Rights movement had begun and many of the men who paved the way were veterans. Icons like Jackie Robinson and Ralph Abernathy had to deal with much injustice while in the Army. But the inner strength they found to deal with those indignities was incalculable in breaking down racial barriers in postwar America. The men at Wereth had a lot to do with that. They did not live to see themselves truly free, but by remembering their sacrifice we add them to the long list of those who died for freedom.

Astor, Gerald. The Right To Fight. Presidio Press, 1998.

Lee, Ulysses. The Employment of Negro Troops. 1965 (part of the Green Series)

Smith, Graham. When Jim Crow Met John Bull. IB Tauris. 1987

After The Battle Magazine (Jean Pallud, publisher and primary editor) – Highly recommend publication. I also recommend Mr. Pallud’s book Battle of the Bulge: Then and Now.

Carl Wouters’ website: http://106thinfantry.webs.com/.

Fells Point and the History of Baltimore, Maryland

Founded in 1726, when the Inner Harbor was marshland, Fell’s Point was Baltimore’s first deepwater port. Federal and early Victorian homes and buildings still line the streets, making Fell’s Point Baltimore’s best historical area. The cobbled streets slow traffic in the quaint neighborhood of brick row houses, where expansive water views, unique shops, bars, and restaurants, attract locals and visitors hungry for a historical urban setting.

Fell’s Point is a walkable, pleasant area. With over 350 structures dating back to the 18th century, the area was once peopled by sea captains and sailors, pirates, and slaves. Some claim that William Fell himself still roams the streets late at night, disappearing around a corner, and fading into an early morning mist.

In 1726, Fell’s Point was founded by William Fell, an English shipbuilder. Fell, a Quaker, purchased the land once called Long Island Point and renamed it Fell’s Prospect.

In 1763, William Fell’s son Edward, and his wife Anne Bond Fell divided the land into parcels and sold or leased it to speculators. The deepwater port soon filled with wharves, warehouses, homes, and stores, and was renamed Fells Point.

Robert Long acquired a 99-year lease in 1765 and built a house as required by the terms of the lease. In the 1970s, Robert Long’s house was restored and can now be seen and visited at 812 South Ann Street. The adjacent garden features a colonial style herb garden with plants used for cooking, medicinal purposes, fabric dyes, and insect repellent.

The London Coffee House at Bond and Thomas Street may be the only existing pre-revolutionary coffee house in the USA.

Fell’s Point was incorporated into Baltimore in 1773.

Quickly becoming a center for shipbuilding and maritime commerce, Fell’s Point was important to colonial commerce. As England depleted its resources, American timber was exported from Fell’s Point wharves.

By the 1790’s, Maryland and Virgina became the young country’s leading wheat producers. Baltimore’s grain mills ground flour for export, and in 1811, exported one million barrels of flour.

The Napoleanic wars caused wheat shortages in Europe, fueling a demand for American agricultural products. When American merchant ships were boarded by the British, and American seamen conscripted for service in the Royal Navy, the Federal government drew up the Embargo Act. The prohibition of American trade with Europe severely damaged Baltimore and Fells Point’s commerce. Wheat growers, millers, export companies, and seamen, suffered a loss of income.

When the Embargo was lifted, business picked up, but by 1812, troubles with England led to the War of 1812. The Federal government allowed privateers to set sail from Fell’s Point in order to capture British vessels and their cargo. Fells Point became, once again, a center for shipbuilding.

The Baltimore Clipper was a type of schooner used by privateers. Two sharply raked masts and a narrow hull created enough speed to earn the nickname, The Yankee Racehorse.

By 1812, 172 ships had been commissioned for the purpose of privateering. Capturing over 500 vessels and millions of dollars in cargo, the Baltimore clippers incited the London Times to call Fel’ls Point and Baltimore a nest of pirates and caused British shipping insurance rates to triple.

In retaliation, the British attempted a failed land invasion at North Point. In September of 1814, British ships attacked Baltimore by water. The famous Battle of Baltimore repulsed the invaders and became the source of the US National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.

From 1790 – 1840, Fells Point was one of the United States’ greatest shipbuilding ports, producing 1/10 of our nation’s ships. Fell’s Point produced The Virginia, one of the 13 frigates of the Continental Navy, and in 1797, produced the first Constellation (not the same ship docked at the Inner Harbor).

Many Fell’s Point businessmen did not own slaves, but hired freemen and slaves owned by others. By 1830, one out of six workers in Fell’s Point shipyards was an African American. Many were employed as caulkers and in 1838, freedmen formed a trade union, the Association of Black Caulkers.

Frederick Douglas the famous writer, orator, and abolitionist worked as a caulker in Fells Point during the 1820’s and 1830’s. There, he joined the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society, a club formed by free blacks for purposes of research, debate, literary analysis, and writing. He escaped slavery to become an icon of the abolitionist movement.

In his autobiography, Douglas mentions the oppressive heat of summers in Fells Point. He claimed that city slaves had a better life than those in rural settings, due he believed, to the proximity of other people. Public opinion created a vestige of decency that made cruelty intolerable.

African American men called Black Jacks filled many duties in the maritime industry operating as captains, pilots, cooks, and stewards. Most caulkers of 19th century Fell’s Point were black, highly skilled and well paid workers. In the late 1880’s, some ship builders began to hire white immigrants who were less skilled but worked for lower wages. Violence ensued and eventually the tradition of African American caulkers ended.

As masted sailing vessels gave way to steam ships, the shipyards of Fell’s Point closed and the shipping industry moved to Locust Point. Replaced by packing houses and canneries, Fell’s Point became famous for the 3 B’s – bars, brothels, and boarding houses.

Before the Civil War, Henderson’s Wharf in Fell’s Point was the main point of entry for immigrants entering Baltimore. After 1868, the main point of entry moved to Locust Point. The second half of the 19th century saw an influx of immigrants second only to Ellis Island. Irish fled the Great Famine, while Germans fled political turbulence. After the 1880’s, Italians and Poles formed the bulk of immigration and Baltimore welcomed up to 40,000 immigrants a year.

Many immigrants found housing in the small row homesof Fell’s Point. Due to the curious English system of ground rent, where the house is purchased but the land leased, Baltimore became a city of home owners. Immigrant workers purchased homes radiating out from Fell’s Point.

In 1914, the city built the Recreation Pier at 1715 Thames Street, a place for workers and immigrants to relax with dancing and educational programs. (The site was used in the 1990s for filming the popular TV show, Homicide:Life on the Streets). After years of deterioration, the site was redeveloped to create the Sagamore Pendry, a high end hotel.

World War I closed off the mass migrations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, immigrants have established a thriving Latino community in Upper Fell’s Point.

The late 1960s saw a revitalization of Baltimore, thanks to the influence of several strong community groups and the city’s forward thinking Mayor William Donald Shaefer.

When plans to build an extension for I-95 threatened to destroy the historic nature of Fell’s Point and nearby Federal Hill, community activists rose to defend the area. A local social worker named Barbara Mikulski helped lead the fight along with the Society for the Preservation of Fell’s Point and Federal Hill. The Fell’s Point Fun Festival closed off the streets in hopes of raising funds and attracting attention to the plight of the neighborhood. Since then, the Fell’s Point Fun Festival has drawn crowds on the first weekend of every October.

Fel’ls Point picked up and, in 1969, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It became a mecca for young people, artists, and an eclectic mix of characters. Funky shops and quirky bars catered to people in search of an authentic local experience, attracting tourists and locals for day time strolls, shopping, dining, and night life.

The luxury craze of the early 21st century attracted a swarm of real estate speculators. Prices of homes escalated dramatically, and the increased cost of renting store fronts drove away many of the colorful shops that gave Fells Point so much color.

Ghost tours prowl the streets, especially near Halloween. The Horse You Came In On at 1626 Thames Street is one of our nations oldest continuously running saloons. Established in 1775, horse stables stood in the rear of the building. Some claim that the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe haunts the Horse, swinging the chandelier, and opening the cash drawer.

The Cats Eye Pub is said to be haunted as well. During a renovation, workers found red light switches on the walls, a common feature of brothels and the source of the phrase “red light district.” Though the switches were covered, patrons hear ghostly clicks and glasses occasionally fly off the shelves.

If any place is haunted, it would be Fell’s Point – the ghost of the child Billie Holiday who ran the streets in the 1920’s; Mayor William Donald Shaefer at the big round table in back of Jimmy’s, reserved sign gone, but his spirit still there; the call of sailors; the sound of horses and wagons clattering along the stones in the street; the clang of rigging on masts; laughter and music leaking out of bars; a seagull eternally crying over head; the rise and fall of fortunes; and William Fell, his antiquated form fading in and out of the darkness.

Tug boats, sail boats, and houseboats still berth at the docks. Standing on the edge of the wharf you can observe the silvery refraction of light on water. The old brick buildings on Thames Street glow in the golden light of late afternoon.

There is some contention as to the street surface in Fell’s Point. Assumed by many to be cast off ballast of colonial merchant ships, the material that makes up the beautiful streets may have been a Victorian surfacing material called Belgian block, originally used in the 1880’s. In 1985, Joseph Averza and sons began replacing the asphalt of Fells Point with Belgian block in a restoration project to create a more historic atmosphere.

(Baltimore Sun 7/10/ 1985)

Despite some claims, the Constellation on display at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is not the original vessel built at Fell’s Point in 1797. The first frigate was broken up in 1853. Today’s Constellation was built at the Norfolk Naval Yard in 1855. Serving during the Civil War and later as a training ship, the second Constellation was preserved as a relic. Reconfigured to resemble the 18th century frigate in the 20th century, the second Constellation was moved to the Inner Harbor in 1968.

The Baltimore Book – New views of Local History by Elizabeth Fee and Linda Shopes;Temple University Press; 1993

Commerce of Early American Waterways: The Transport of Goods by Arks, Rafts, etc; by Earl E. Brown

Encylopedia of African American History 1619 – 1895 by Paul Finkelman; Oxford University Press; 2006

baltostories.com

www.historicships.org/constellation.html

Baltimore City Heritage Area Management Action Plan

Baltimore Immigration Memorial Found

http://www.historyatrisk.com/fellspoint-documentary.html

Great Books for Teen Girls: Families With Children From China

Here is a list of the best books featuring teens–both Chinese and Chinese-American–which have been published in the last few years.

There is a little something for everyone here: fantasy, steampunk, kung fu, and realistic stories with heart, soul, and humor.

In American Panda Mei has always tried to do everything her Taiwanese parents want:

  • She studied hard in school and got good grades. She even skipped a grade!
  • At 17, she got accepted to MIT, one of the best colleges in the country.
  • She’s studying medicine at MIT so she can become a doctor.

So far, so good.

Except her parents are still pushing. Mei’s mom calls her several times a day and leaves voice mails when she doesn’t answer. (If you think your parents are over-the-top, wait until you read the messages Mei’s mother leaves.)

And also, Mei has a problem with being a doctor. She’s a germaphobe. She hates icky stuff and feels like washing her hands all the time. And, as she takes her classes, she is discovering what it’s like to be a doctor. You have to deal with icky stuff all the time!

Mei would really like to pursue something else, a passion that she’s had since she was a child, but she knows her parents won’t approve. And she has seen what happens when her parents disapprove of someone. They disowned Mei’s own brother, their only son, when they didn’t like the woman he wanted to marry. She’s Chinese and everything, but they won’t accept her.

Seriously, they disowned him. Won’t talk to him. Won’t talk about him. Won’t help him with his tuition. They’re acting like he died.

Mei doesn’t know if she could stand up to that kind of treatment. She loves her parents, and she does want to work hard. But she’s not sure how much longer she can go along with her parents’ plans for her life.

And the cute new boy she’s getting to know…that’s another wrinkle in her life.

This fun read is the first book from Gloria Chao, a writer who seems to have a lot in common with Mei. According to the back flap of her book, she is “an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer.”

In All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung tells the story of her life.

She was born into a Korean-American family, but she was born 10 weeks too early. Her birth parents were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to take care of her, so they relinquished her for adoption, and she was taken in by a Caucasian family. She grew up one of the few Asians in a predominantly white town.

She describes her parents as loving and honest, telling her as much as they knew about the circumstances of her adoption, yet she didn’t feel like she could tell them about everything that was happening at school, and how she was continually being teased and bullied about being Korean.

She became a writer, first writing down her feelings out of sheer frustration, then honing her writing skills into being a writer and editor for different publications. As a result, this memoir is a well-written book that takes us into her life and helps us understand the way she felt.

It wasn’t until she was married and expecting a baby of her own that Chung started the search for her birth family. She had wondered, but had never taken the first steps before. Her adoption was technically a closed adoption with no information available, but over time, the US laws changed, and she was able to find information on some of her relatives.

It would be giving too much away to say what she found. I can say that real life tends to be complicated, maybe not living up to everything you’d hoped, but also not as bad as everything you’ve feared.

AR Reading Level 5.3: Interest Level 6-9th Grades

Author Stacey Lee is describes herself as a “4th-generation Californian with roots in San Francisco Chinatown…She has lots of experience with earthquakes, having skinned her knees more times than she wants to remember diving under tables.”

And so, in Outrun the Moon, she has written a historical novel about a determined heroine, 15-year-old Mercy Wong, who lives in San Francisco and survives the 1906 earthquake.

When the story opens we learn that Mercy, a strong-willed girl who has “bossy cheeks” according to her neighbors in Chinatown, is angling to get herself a spot at the exclusive St. Clare’s School for Girls. Inspired by The Book for Business-Minded Women, she has plans to better herself and lift her family out of poverty.

With a blend of boldness and cleverness, she strikes a bargain with the school’s main patron who will take the unusual step of allowing a Chinese girl to attend the school if she can convince everyone she’s a Chinese noblewoman.

To her dismay, she finds the school is more about comportment and embroidery than the business skills she was hoping to learn.

But then the earthquake hits, and Mercy finds that she needs every bit of her determination and cleverness in the aftermath.

This is a fast-paced and engaging story that will introduce readers to lots of cultural and historical detail without them hardly noticing it. Being a teen book, it has a sweet and innocent romance, though the fellow is absent for much of the story.

I also need to tell you that not everyone in Mercy’s family survives the earthquake, so be prepared for some sadness if you want to read this book.

A friend of mine from the library where I work has met the author and thinks she will be someone to watch in the coming years. She sounds like an interesting character in her own right. On the back flap of the dust cover, she says that one day she hopes to own a hypoallergenic horse and live by the sea.

Soundless by Richelle Mead

Fantasy Book AR Reading Level 6.0 266 p. 2015

Soundless has the ambiance of a finely-textured Chinese myth. It starts in a village, high on a mountain, cut off from the rest of the world by a series of avalanches that block the path. Is it the present? Past? Future? We’re not sure. Just as we’re not sure where in China the village is located.

What we do know is that a young woman named Fei , along with the rest of her village, is in trouble. For as long as anyone can remember, no one in the village has been able to hear. They have grown used to using their hands to sign and communicate, but now, some people are losing their sight as well.

When she notices that her beloved sister is having trouble seeing, Fei tries desperately to hide it from the others. She and her sisters are part of the village’s community of artists, living a life of relative ease and assigned the task of watching what happens every day and painting what has happened as a record of the community’s history. If the elders find out she is going blind, they will consign her to a life of hardship in the mines.

As much as she aches for her sister, Fei is also afraid for the whole village. They only way they can get food is to send precious metals down the mountain on a zipline to the mysterious village of Beiguo, which then sends up food. But many of the miners are losing their sight as well, and if they can’t mine for metals, the whole village faces hunger and starvation.

One night, Fei is awakened by a strange sensation. Could it be sound? Why is she the only person who can hear it? And is there any way to use her newfound power to help the village?

Before she knows it, Fei has joined forces with Li Wei, a young man who has lost his father to the mines and is determined to uncover the truth of what is happening to the village.

What you will find in this book: A cherished sister, a warrior woman, a little bit of romance (note to parents–a clean read), and–most of all–a terrible secret that will change the lives of everyone it touches.

From the author of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, this fantasy/adventure novel weaves a rich tapestry of a story.

The beginning of Red Butterfly is like a riddle that takes a little while to figure out. A girl named Kara is telling us about her life in Tianjin, China, cooking stir frying, riding her bicycle, talking with the neighbor boy.

But right away, we find out her mother has had to sell her piano to get some money to buy food. And then we find out that Kara is a Chinese girl born in China, while her mother is an American born in Montana. Kara’s father used to live with them in China, too, but he has gone back to Montana where Kara’s older sister—older by 30 years–lives, too.

As if this isn’t strange enough, we find out that Kara’s mother never leaves the apartment. Never. Kara gets to go out sometimes, but she has to follow the rules she learned since she was tiny. “Don’t talk too much, but be pleasant, not afraid. Don’t chat with strangers or tell them where you live.”

Clearly, her mom has a secret, but what is it? The answer changes Kara’s life forever.

This book will pull you in to Kara’s life and keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen to her. Even though it’s almost 400 pages long, it reads quite fast because the lines are short, like a fast-moving poem.

It’s heartbreaking at times, and it will give you a feel for what it’s like to be a Chinese girl caught between two worlds.

It has some pretty cool artwork, too.

Fire Horse Girl is a good book for a teen who likes feisty heroines, intrigue (from the cover, you can see that she dresses as a young man at some point), and plot twists and turns.

Tucked in to the adventure, readers will learn quite a bit about Chinese-American immigrants and what it was like to come to a new land in the early 20th century.

Jade Moon is considered unlucky by her family. She was born in the year of the Fire Horse—one in which the horse’s “worst traits—their tempers, their stubbornness, their selfishness—burn with increased strength.” She chafes against the traditional women’s role in China—not to mention that she is shunned and teased by those who consider her bad luck.

She and her father plan to move to America to fulfill family obligations, but when she is on Angel Island, she learns that her father plans to keep her as entrapped as she feels in China. She makes a daring escape and takes on another identity, but becomes entrapped again–this time in the activities of the tong, which often functioned as a sort of Chinese mafia.

Author Kay Honeyman was inspired to write this story by two things: the renovation of Angel Island, and the process of adopting a boy from China. In this, her first novel, she weaves together adventure, suspense, an eminently likeable heroine and the poignant stories of Chinese immigrants struggling to hold onto their dreams for a better life while enduring the sparse conditions and interminable interviews that constituted the Angel Island experience.

Ages 15-up

It’s not easy to find a book for teens that is set during China’s Cultural Revolution. The period was marked by public shaming, betrayal, torture and violence, so it’s not surprising that authors have a hard time conveying the history while not delving into horrific and graphic detail.

I’m pleased to say that Compestine, whose father was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution, strikes a good balance in Revolution is Not a Dinner Party, a simply told, yet poignant tale of a fictional girl living through the upheaval.

Her story starts with a nine-year-old girl named Ling who has a comfortable life in China living with her mother, who is a nurse, and her father, who is a doctor. We get to know the Wongs, the friendly family who lives upstairs and Comrade Li, a seemingly kindly fellow who lives next door and makes origami figures for the children.

As time goes on, however, it is clear that a movement is afoot that poses a threat to the happiness of Ling’s little family. Their house is suddenly subject to surprise inspections from the Red Guards, Comrade Li turns menacing, Mr. Wong goes missing in the night and Mrs. Wong is publicly humiliated and then arrested.

Compestine avoids severe violence and any bloodshed, but the events could still be disturbing for a sensitive reader. I would recommend this for an older teen. There is one woman who is brought home after being shamed and chooses to commit suicide (offstage), and that is something to consider when choosing something for your child.

However, if you have a teen who has been OK with popular teen books such as The Hunger Games or Divergent, this book should be fine.

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party has been turning up on lots of lists of recommended books lately, a tribute to the fine storytelling and the importance of the time period in the evolution of China. If your teen is interested in Chinese history, this book is an excellent choice to immerse her in Chinese culture and history.

This luminous book, Chu Ju’s House, sheds light on Chinese cultural practices as it follows its capable and resourceful heroine in her journey across China.

When 14-year-old Chu Ju discovers that her grandmother plans to send away her newborn sister so that the family can try for a boy, she leaves home and sets off to find a new life in the countryside so that her sister can have a chance to stay with her family.

Through her travels, the reader experiences life in contemporary rural China as Chu Ju learns several trades to support herself. She first helps a family on a fishing boat, then tends to silkworms in a silk factory, then on to working the land and planting rice with an elderly woman and her son.

Whelan’s style is at once spare and highly descriptive. She specializes in stories of young women making their way in a difficult world and finding independence and satisfaction, and Chu Ju is no exception as she finally finds her own home and profession.

For girls adopted from China, this story provides a gentle, yet honest look at cultural attitudes towards gender and the hard choices that girls and women face.

Though the cover makes this book seem like a fluffy piece of chick lit, it is actually a well-written and enjoyable story featuring a smart young woman.

Cece, a young woman who was born in China and adopted when she was two years old, joins an exchange program to China. She is interested in the archaeology of Xi’an, and also has plans to try to learn something about her birth parents.

What she finds out about her parents is perhaps not typical, but believable, and we learn a bit about Chinese archaeology along the way.

Cinder is a re-imagining of the Cinderella tale which finds her living as a mechanic in a future city called new Beijing.

Unlike the other books on this list, the China setting isn’t central to the story. Still, I thought teens would be interested in a book that shows the center of activity in China, albeit and altered China of the future. (It seems to have a few Japanese elements—like kimonos added for good measure.) The food they eat is definitely Chinese, as are the names.

Lin Mei—everyone calls her Cinder—lives with her controlling, mean-tempered stepmother, as always, but the twist here is that Cinder is a cyborg and good with a wrench.

One day, the handsome and friendly Prince Kai drops by to see if she can take a look at his android.

We all know the story arc, but it plays out in some surprising ways in this futuristic, just a tad steampunk universe. Cinder is a great heroine—brave and ingenious, and the romance is kept chaste.

Girl in Translation is a book that brings home the hardships, the triumphs, and the poignancy of the immigrant experience in America.

Kimberly Chang and her mother find themselves at the mercy of powerful relatives who have sponsored their trip to the United States, and they are forced to work in their extended family’s sweatshop to pay back their debt. (Who knew that there were still sweatshops running in this country in the 1980s?)

The poverty is palpable: they live in a rundown building without heat, and one memorable scene has them fishing a bolt of bright blue furry material from the trash cans to use for blankets, curtains, and even tablecloths.

We cheer for Kimberly as she moves from wide-eyed immigrant to acceptance at one of the most prestigious colleges in America.

The following books have been around a while, and not all of them are in print. But they are well with purchasing on the used market.

As such, I’ve included short reviews of them here, but they don’t have a link to click to Amazon.

This book provides plenty of action for kids who like adventure series while shedding some light on Chinese culture, especially the ideas behind kung fu and its fighting styles, and the history of 17th century China.

Stone hooks readers in from the very beginning and spins a tale of kung fu monks (each of whom specializes in a certain type of kung fu, hence the Tiger, Monkey, Snake, etc. of the titles) on a journey to discover themselves, their links to each other, and their destiny.

When the story opens, five fighting monks are crammed together in an earthen jar, and not too comfortable. The one on the bottom is getting squished, and one of them has stinky feet. Right away, Stone establishes the humor in the book, but also the narrative tension: the monks are hiding from something.

It turns out that the renegade monk, Ying, has attacked the temple, his army brandishing a new weapon: guns. Before the grandmaster is slain, he tells the five young monks that they must discover their connections to each other, and they must change the heart of the traitor, Ying, and of the emperor. It’s quite a tall order for the characters, all between the ages 12 and 17.

As they proceed with their adventures throughout the seven books, the kung-fu action sequences and twists and turns in the plot keep young readers turning pages.

Though the main character does not have Chinese heritage, she does deal with issues of appearance and acceptance. She has a noticeable port wine birthmark on her face, and she’s tried all sorts of things to minimize it, but nothing has worked.

She meets a boy who was adopted from China who seems to feel comfortable in his own skin and actually travels to China with him when he takes a heritage tour. A nicely written tale that also describes the popular pastime of geo-caching.

A girl looks for her father and finds herself attacked by several supernatural evil beings. An Asian-inspired version of high fantasy, this work was voted one of Booklist’s best fantasy books of the year.

The second book in the series is titled “Fury of the Phoenix.”

A clever and quick-witted teen who is half Asian, half Caucasian, finds herself dealing with “guy problems” at a math camp her mother insists on sending her to for the summer. Headley’s use of language is smart and funny.

Syrah Cheng, daughter of a billionaire, is a snowboarder extraordinaire. But when she has an accident on the slopes, she needs to cope with trying to rehabilitate her injured knee and find herself at the same time.

Emily Dickinson’s World View: The Life of a Monastic

Emily Dickinson is probably the most famous American poet of the nineteenth century. Her poems focus on a number of topics including death, philosophy of life, immortality, riddles, birds, flowers, sunsets, people, and many others. She left manuscripts—little bundles of poems called “fascicles”—totaling 1775 poems, and three volumes of letters.

Dickinson’s active mind and mystical intuition led her to pen some of the most brilliant poetry ever written, full of insight and well-crafted. Her poem, “The Brain — is wider than the Sky —,” demonstrates a deep understanding of the nature of the human mind in its relationship to God.

This poem dramatizes a spiritual truth: the human brain is the seat of ultimate wisdom. In yoga philosophy, the highest center of consciousness is the “thousand-petaled lotus” in the brain. The lotus is a flower, of course, used as a metaphor for the functioning of the opening of the center of consciousness during God-union.

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda explains, “The seventh center, the ‘thousand-petaled lotus’ in the brain, is the throne of the Infinite Consciousness. In the state of divine illumination, the yogi is said to perceive Brahma or God the Creator as Padmaja, ‘the One born of the lotus’.”

It is not likely that Emily Dickinson studied any form of yoga, nor is it likely she was even acquainted with the Bhagavad Gita, which was just being introduced in America during her lifetime.

A contemporary of Dickinson’s, the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, had studied Eastern philosophy, including the Gita, and he had some knowledge of the Vedas. But Dickinson’s awareness came from pure intuition on her part.

Emily Dickinson lived a life that resembled a monastic: indeed she has been nicknamed the “Nun of Amherst.” Her life has been described as reclusive, even hermit-like. Dickinson used her time to study scripture, and she became well-versed in Judeo-Christian biblical lore and concepts.

As a child and young adult, Dickinson attended church with her family. In later life, she decided to cloister herself in order to fulfill the development of her mystical powers and her close attention to the details of nature including birds, flowers, and the transitioning of the seasons.

The poet also closely observed the visitors to her father’s home; although she seldom met with them face to face.

During her monastic period of life, Dickinson began to contemplate the important questions about the purpose of life and how we should live and worship. Her poem, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —,” celebrates the belief held by “the nun of Amherst” that merely by staying home and worshipping, she could go to heaven all along instead of waiting.

In this poem the speaker makes God’s creations, not man’s, the instruments of worship—a bird serves the position of the choir director, and fruit trees serve as the roof of her church.

This worshiper wears her metaphorical “wings” instead of a church sanctioned garment. And the most impressive part of this speaker’s “church service” is that God is doing the preaching, delivering a short sermon, which delivers the worshiper more time to meditate instead of merely listening for learned words delivered by an ordinary clergyman.

Dickinson was also interested in what happened to the soul after death. Whenever she heard of a death, she was very interested to hear what the person said or did while dying.

As Dickinson’s little nephew Gilbert lay dying, she heard him uttering words that to her seemed to indicate that the boy’s soul was a being escorted from its physical casing by angels.

Dickinson’s study of death and dying led her to believe in immortality, a topic often referred to as her flood subject. Her poem, “Because I could not stop for Death -,” represents her conclusion about dying.

The speaker in this drama portrays death as a gentleman caller who arrives as if to take a lady out for the evening. Notice that the journey symbolizes the idea of one’s life passing before one’s gaze at death. But the final cemetery scene is quickly passed over, and the conflation of time resembles a dream, as the speaker claims she is still riding with the “Horses’ Heads” “toward Eternity.”

Dickinson believed in immortality more surely than the other conventionally religious members of her generation did. She studied, contemplated, and no doubt, her intensity led to meditation on God. Her insights into life and immortality cannot be explained any other way.

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father’s home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily’s personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily’s New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily’s father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.

Education

Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily’s early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

Reclusiveness and Religion

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father’s community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily’s poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family’s and compatriots’ intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Emily’s reclusiveness extended to her decision that she could keep the sabbath by staying home instead of attending church services. Her wonderful explication of the decision appears in her poem, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church”:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —

I keep it, staying at Home —

With a Bobolink for a Chorister —

And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —

I just wear my Wings —

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —

I’m going, all along.

Publication

Very few of Emily’s poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death the her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily’s room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publicans of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily’s brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily’s poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had “corrected” for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily’s mystically brilliant talent.

Emily Dickinson’s “Two Butterflies went out at Noon”

In Emily Dickinson’s “Two Butterflies went out at Noon” (#533 in Thomas H. Johnson’s The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson), the speaker dramatizes an imaginary flight of two butterflies that ease out on an amazing journey.

Emily Dickinson’s mystical vision is revealed in many of her poems, and this one serves as one of the finest examples of that vision. Her gift of mystical sight accompanies her gift for creating little dramas that feature snippets of that sight in poetic form.

Two Butterflies went out at Noon—

Two Butterflies went out at Noon—

And waltzed above a Farm—

Then stepped straight through the Firmament

And rested on a Beam—

And then—together bore away

Upon a shining Sea—

Though never yet, in any Port—

Their coming mentioned—be—

If spoken by the distant Bird—

If met in Ether Sea

By Frigate, or by Merchantman—

No notice—was—to me—

Emily Dickinson possessed the gift of mystic vision, and that vision is displayed brilliantly in this fantabulous little poem that offers a little drama of two butterflies on a mystical flight.

First Stanza: Suddenly at Noon

Two Butterflies went out at Noon—

And waltzed above a Farm—

Then stepped straight through the Firmament

And rested on a Beam—

The speaker reports, “Two Butterflies went out at Noon,” and they “waltzed above a Farm.” At this point, the speaker can observe the creatures, but from where they came is a mystery; they just suddenly appear at “Noon.” They did not go out of any location; the only way the reader can locate the butterflies is by time, not place.

The mysterious report does not even locate the observer: was she outside when she perceived these butterflies? But if she had actually seen them, why does she not reveal where they “went out” from? The speaker/observer then claims that these butterflies, after completing their waltz above the farm, “stepped straight through the Firmament,” where they “rested on a Beam.” Just as the butterflies suddenly appear out of nowhere, they vanish into the sky.

The speaker can no longer see them with her physical eyes, but nevertheless, she reports that they “rested on a Beam.” The speaker’s cosmic or mystic eye can see them as they recline on a ray of sunshine. The reader then understands that the speaker is not merely reporting about physical butterflies she has actually seen with her physical eyes; she is making a metaphorical comparison of the nature of thoughts, for it is only thoughts that have the power to appear out of nowhere and vanish beyond the sky with such felicity and velocity.

Second Stanza: Steal Away and Glide

And then—together bore away

Upon a shining Sea—

Though never yet, in any Port—

Their coming mentioned—be—

From their position beyond the vault of the sky, the butterfly-thoughts “bore away / Upon a shining Sea.” As swiftly and seamlessly as they “stepped straight through the Firmament,” they steal away and glide without a water vessel over the ocean.

The speaker remarks that although these amazing butterfly-thoughts took to the sea, they never stopped to visit “any Port.” She is sure that if their presence had been detected, “their coming” would have been “mentioned,” yet it never was. At this point, the little drama mounts, leaving the reader wondering where those itinerant butterflies will go next.

Third Stanza: They Are Ethereal

If spoken by the distant Bird—

If met in Ether Sea

By Frigate, or by Merchantman—

No notice—was—to me—

But the speaker shrewdly evades the ultimate question of where the butterflies finally settle, proclaiming that if someone has ever seen them since, no one has ever reported their whereabouts. But the information revealed in her report of no information fills out the drama.

Who might have spoken of the whereabouts of these roaming butterflies? They might have been spotted by some “distant Bird”; surely that bird would have spoken up and reported on their whereabouts. Or if folks in a ship or even a “merchantman” might have seen them, they surely would have reported.

But the unlikely prospect of meeting these creatures is, of course, that they are ethereal; they are invisible, and go unseen through the air, sky, and sea. They go swiftly, quietly and even the one doing the thinking, the one entertaining those butterfly-thoughts will have to admit that she might take no notice of them—unless, of course, she fashions a poetic drama to display them.

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father’s home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily’s personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily’s New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily’s father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.

Education

Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily’s early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father’s community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily’s poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family’s and compatriots’ intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Publication

Very few of Emily’s poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death the her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily’s room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publicans of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily’s brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily’s poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had “corrected” for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily’s mystically brilliant talent.

Emily Dickinson’s “On this wondrous sea”

Emily Dickinson’s fourth poem in Thomas H. Johnson’s The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson may be thought of as the beginning of her true style and content. The first three poems feature two Valentine messages (#1 and #3) and an invitation (#2) to her brother, Austin, to come and experience the new world she is creating with her poetry.

In contrast to the first three entries in Dickinson’s complete poems, “On this wondrous sea” sets out on a journey of poetry creation that will involve her belovèd Creator, whom she will beseech and at times even argue with in her zeal to substantiate truth and beauty in her other “sky.”

In a very real sense, the Dickinson speaker is performing a set of little dramas that resemble that of the speaker of the Shakespeare sonnets. The Shakespeare sonneteer was interested only in preserving truth, beauty, and love in his creations for future generations. In the course of those sonnets, especially the section known as “The Writer/Muse Sonnets,” he expresses his desire repeatedly to present only truth, beauty, and love in his works, in contrast to the poetasteral slathering on of tinsel and meaningless blather.

The Dickinson speaker demonstrates the same proclivities, and it also becomes evident that she shows a keen ability to observe the tiniest detail in her environment. Yet, even as she focuses on those details, her vision never lowers from her mystic sight, and that is wherein she differs dramatically from the Shakespearean sonneteer. While he reveals his devout awareness of the mystical in his life, he remains a mere observer compared to the active mysticism of the Dickinson speaker.

Emily Dickinson’s rare ability to communicate the ineffable has earned her a place in American letters that no other literary figure in the English language has been able to out pace.

On this wondrous sea

On this wondrous sea

Sailing silently,

Ho! Pilot, ho!

Knowest thou the shore

Where no breakers roar —

Where the storm is o’er?

In the peaceful west

Many the sails at rest —

The anchors fast —

Thither I pilot thee

Land Ho! Eternity!

Ashore at last!

The speaker supplicates to her Divine Belovèd and receives a loving answer of blessed assurance.

First Stanza: A Sea Metaphor

On this wondrous sea

Sailing silently,

Ho! Pilot, ho!

Knowest thou the shore

Where no breakers roar —

Where the storm is o’er?

The speaker begins by creating a metaphor for the physical level of being, this wide world, in which she finds herself tempest tossed and uncertain of the way to safety. Calling this world a “wondrous sea,” she reports that she is quietly sailing upon this ocean of chaos, then suddenly she cries out: “Ho! Pilot, ho!”—and then she demands of him to know if he knows where there is safety, where there are no trials and tribulations, where one can find rest from the many upheavals and battles that continually confront each inhabitant of this world.

The speaker wants to know if the Creator of this seemingly confusing Creation knows where she can go to come out of “the storm.” As the “sea” is a metaphor for the world, the “Pilot” is the metaphor for the Creator (or God), Who directs and leads His children through this confusing place. As a pilot would steer a ship, God steers the ship of life, the ship of this world that only He has created. Thus the speaker appeals to God for an answer to her question, is there anywhere that can offer peace to the poor soul who must navigate the churning waters of this world?

Second Stanza: Ceasing the Constant Struggle

In the peaceful west

Many the sails at rest —

The anchors fast —

Thither I pilot thee

Land Ho! Eternity!

Ashore at last!

In the second stanza, the speaker shifts from the supplicant to the Blessed Creator, Who bestows on the questioner the answer to her question. The storm is over where peace reigns supreme. Metaphorically, the speaker chooses to locate the peaceful place in the “west,” likely to rime it with “rest.”

(Please note: The spelling, “rhyme,” was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see “Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.”)

In that peaceful west, one can cease the constant struggle with the dualities of this world. One can feel secure with “anchors fast,” unlike the constant heaving and tossing back and forth that the rough sea causes. The sails can be lowered and remain in that position because the journey has reached its destination.

The piloting Creator then assures His traveling, storm-tossed child that, in fact, He is taking her there as she speaks. The words, “Thither I pilot thee,” must ring in the ears of this supplicant as a true balm of heaven, comforting her every nervous inclination; she knows that she is safe with this “Pilot,” Who knows where to take her and is piloting her there now.

Then suddenly, the coveted land is in sight and the land is “Eternity.” The speaker now knows she is being guided safely and surely through her life by the One, Who can take her “ashore” and keep her secure throughout eternity. Immortality is hers and peace will be her existence in this eternal resting place where the soul resides with the Divine Over-Soul.

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father’s home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily’s personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily’s New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily’s father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.

Education

Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily’s early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

Reclusiveness and Religion

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father’s community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily’s poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family’s and compatriots’ intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Emily’s reclusiveness extended to her decision that she could keep the sabbath by staying home instead of attending church services. Her wonderful explication of the decision appears in her poem, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church”:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —

I keep it, staying at Home —

With a Bobolink for a Chorister —

And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —

I just wear my Wings —

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —

I’m going, all along.

Publication

Very few of Emily’s poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death the her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily’s room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publicans of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily’s brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily’s poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had “corrected” for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily’s mystically brilliant talent.

Emily Dickinson’s “Morns Like These — We Parted”

Emily Dickinson’s speaker is creating a drama from the act of bird watching which covers a single day from the time of morning when one bird and she parted company to the act of evening drawing the curtains, simultaneously hearing the bird fly off to its own abode.

The mental gymnastics of the speaker reveals a special gift of qualifying the experience of the human mind intrigued by the bird’s ability to fly in the freedom of the open skies, indicating that this drama has often play out in the speaker’s mind.

Morns like these — we parted

Morns like these — we parted —

Noons like these — she rose —

Fluttering first — then firmer

To her fair repose.

Never did she lisp it —

It was not for me—

She — was mute from transport —

I — from agony —

Till — the evening nearing

One the curtains drew —

Quick! A sharper rustling!

And this linnet flew!

This riddle poem offers an accumulation of evidence that the speaker has observed a bird and then poof! one human act and the bird takes wing!

First Stanza: Observing a Bird

Morns like these — we parted —

Noons like these — she rose —

Fluttering first — then firmer

To her fair repose.

Observing the behavior of feathered friends, the speaker avers that on certain mornings she has watched as a bird will make its way heavenward leaving her earthbound but astounded by the ability of an earth creature to fly through the sky.

In addition to morning flights, she has experienced the magic also around noontime. The creature with wings first may seem to merely “flutter[ ],” but then suddenly with more determined gait glided to her chosen destination.

Second Stanza: Experiencing Awe

Never did she lisp it —

It was not for me—

She — was mute from transport —

I — from agony —

As the bird begins its magical journey, it does not communicate vocally in song or chirp to the speaker’s presence. Having nothing to impart to its observer, it merely begins its flight. The speaker assumes that the bird’s silence is caused merely by her “transport” of the felicity of light.

The speaker remains “mute” merely from “agony”—the sudden awareness that one will remain earthbound while this marvelous creature will ascend and vanish skyward.

Third Stanza: The Close of a Drama

Till — the evening nearing

One the curtains drew —

Quick! A sharper rustling!

And this linnet flew!

All this drama of observation and bird flight goes on from morning to evening, nigh to which someone in the home closes the window curtains. From without comes the “rustling” which is quick and sharp, as the bird—now identified as a “linnet” flies off.

The speaker’s attention has been suddenly snipped by this final sudden movement of the flying creature which she has so patiently watched in wonder. The speaker’s mind has flown with the bird, waited as the bird waited, now drops its object as the bird has rustled its feathers for the last time that day and flown off to God only knows whither.

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father’s home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily’s personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily’s New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily’s father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.

Education

Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily’s early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

Reclusiveness and Religion

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father’s community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily’s poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family’s and compatriots’ intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Emily’s reclusiveness extended to her decision that she could keep the sabbath by staying home instead of attending church services. Her wonderful explication of the decision appears in her poem, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church”:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —

I keep it, staying at Home —

With a Bobolink for a Chorister —

And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —

I just wear my Wings —

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —

I’m going, all along.

Publication

Very few of Emily’s poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death the her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily’s room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publicans of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily’s brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily’s poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had “corrected” for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily’s mystically brilliant talent.

Emily Dickinson’s “If those I loved were lost”

Emily Dickinson’s “If those I loved were lost” features two stanzas, each with two movements. The speaker’s musing targets how the speaker would react to both losing and finding loved ones. Her emotions and behaviors signal the importance of those loved ones to her. The value she places on these individuals can only be suggested and not directly stated.

If those I loved were lost

If those I loved were lost

The Crier’s voice would tell me —

If those I loved were found

The bells of Ghent would ring —

Did those I loved repose

The Daisy would impel me.

Philip — when bewildered

Bore his riddle in!

This highly allusive poem takes readers from life in a small village to the world stage, on which famous bells herald momentous events. The allusions emphasize the significance the speaker places on those to whom she refers.

First Movement: An Important Announcement

If those I loved were lost

The Crier’s voice would tell me —

The speaker is speculating about her emotions and behaviors after having lost a loved one, and then she adds a speculative note about those emotions and behavior as she suddenly has found a beloved.

The first movement finds the speaker claiming that the loss of a loved one would herald a “Crier” to announce the event. In earlier times, a “town crier” was employed to spread local news events on the streets of small villages. His position was noticeable because of his manner and elaborate dress: such a crier might be adorned in bright colors, a coat of red and gold with white pants, a three-cornered hat (tricon), and black boots. He usually carried a bell that he would ring to attract attention of the citizens. He often would begin his announcement with the cry, “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!”

By making this simple claim that a “crier” would be letting her know about the loss of a loved one, the speaker is elevating the importance of everyone she loves to the status of a noted official or famous name in the community.

Second Movement: The Significance of Loss

If those I loved were found

The bells of Ghent would ring —

The speaker then alludes to the famous Ghent Belfry, whose construction began in 1313 with ringing bells to announce religious events, later employed to signal other important occurrences. The inscription on the belfry tower indicates the historical and legendary important of the construction: “My name is Roland. When I toll there is fire. / When I ring there is victory in the land.”

Dickinson was likely aware of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lines, “Till the bell of Ghent responded o’er lagoon and dike of sand, I am Roland! I am Roland! there is victory in the land!” Because the famous bells ring to herald important events, the speaker assigns great importance to the fact that she has found a loved one. Thus, the speaker has molded her losing and finding those she loves into great and momentous events.

Third Movement: Daisy and Death

Did those I loved repose

The Daisy would impel me.

The speaker then speculates about her reaction to the death of her loved ones. She refers to the flower, the “Daisy,” stating that it would “impel her.” The employment of the Daisy is likely prompted by the flower’s association with growing on graves as in Keats’ reference in the following excerpt from one of his letters to a friend: “I shall soon be laid in the quiet grave — thank God for the quiet grave — O! I can feel the cold earth upon me — the daisies growing over me — O for this quiet — it will be my first.” And, too, there is the old expression, “pushing up daisies,” of which Dickinson was, no doubt, aware.

The flower would drive her to some of kind reaction which she fails to describe but only hints at. Although she simply suggests her reaction, she leaves a significant clue in the next movement, as she alludes again to Ghent, this time the leader named Philip.

Fourth Movement: The Riddle of Loss

Philip — when bewildered

Bore his riddle in!

The speaker is then alluding to Philip van Artevelde (1340–82), who was a popular Flemish leader. He led a successful battle against the count of Flanders, but later met defeat and death. The Dickinson household library contained a book with a play that featured Philip’s last words before dying, “What have I done? Why such a death? Why thus?”

Thus the speaker makes it known that she would have many questions as she struggles with the death of a loved one. She would, like Philip, be overcome, having to bear such a “riddle.” The speaker has shown how important and necessary her loved ones are to her, and she has also demonstrated that their loss would be devastating, and she done all this through suggestions and hints, without any direct statement of pain and anguish. All the sorrow is merely suggested by the high level of importance she is assigning to her loved ones.

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father’s home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily’s personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily’s New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily’s father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.

Education

Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily’s early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

Reclusiveness and Religion

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father’s community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily’s poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family’s and compatriots’ intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Emily’s reclusiveness extended to her decision that she could keep the sabbath by staying home instead of attending church services. Her wonderful explication of the decision appears in her poem, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church”:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —

I keep it, staying at Home —

With a Bobolink for a Chorister —

And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —

I just wear my Wings —

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —

I’m going, all along.

Publication

Very few of Emily’s poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death that her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily’s room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publications of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily’s brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily’s poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had “corrected” for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily’s mystically brilliant talent.

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