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For some time now, I have kept a list of quotations that I like—for one reason or another.  Some came from newsletters, some from the signature of e-mail messages, one from another poet's blog, one from a list server. Following is a paragraph composed completely of quotations.  To avoid plagiarism, I have included the author of the quotations in parentheses.  See if you find any truth therein.

If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. (John Irving)  You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. (Jack London) There are two ways of knowing, under standing and over bearing. The first is called wisdom. The second is called winning arguments. (Kenneth Rexroth)  I prefer to turn to poetry to give utterance to the profound contradictions of life. (Czeslaw Milosz) [One] who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. (Friedrich Nietzsche) A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. (Roald Dahl) [But w]hatever part of the dream you remember  is exactly what you need,  like the grain of sand at the center of the pearl. (Gwynne Spencer) [Thus, i]n the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. (Albert Camus)  And …in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.  (Christian Wiman)

We who have entered the twenty-first century live in a fast-moving world—a world with serious on-going problems.  The lessons of history can help us understand our present situation.  They sober us with truth, and give hope to the days ahead.  Martin Luther King Jr. became a prophet to our nation during the turbulent 1960s, but his message, although not yet fully understood or universally received, is as necessary today as it was when he was alive.  In the aftermath of 11 September, we live with many changes, some inevitable, some forced upon us.  We seek safety and peace in a violent world.  Yet somehow I am compelled to admit—the more things change, the more they remain the same.

On 31 March 1968, four days before his death, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon at Washington’s National Cathedral in which he used a sequence of quotations that he had used on many occasions to substantiate his belief that African Americans would come to know “justice, brotherhood, and peace.”  Speaking in the large Episcopal cathedral on his final Sunday, he repeated his justification for hope: “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice . . . because Carlyle is right—‘No lie can live forever.’”  He continued, as he had upon other occasions, for example in 1961, when he defended sit-ins, “because William Cullen Bryant is right—‘Truth, crushed to the earth, will rise again,’ . . . because James Russell Lowell is right—‘ . . . behind the dim unknown stands God, Within the shadow keeping watch above his own.’”  From the “mountain of despair,” King called forth “a stone of hope,” thanking God for John’s vision on the island of Patmos where he heard a voice “descending from heaven.”  King told his congregation they could be “participants” in this “newness . . . if [they] w[ould] but do it.”[1]

I find evidence that hope remained in him to the end, even when depression threatened to stymie his work.  No matter how dark the world became, King knew that truth would somehow overcome.  Strengthened through a mystical encounter with God, Martin Luther King, Jr. never wavered in his conviction that nonviolent confrontation could lead to equality for blacks, if actions were undergirded by love.  His life and works reiterated a theme important to the black church since slavery, “unmerited  suffering is redemptive.”[2]

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” A Knock At Midnight: Inspired From the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.,  ed. Clayborne Carson and Peter Holloran (New York: Warner Books, 1998), 223-24.  King takes his quotation, “No lie can live forever,” from Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution: A History, ed. Bennett A. Cerf and Donald S. Klopper (New York: The Modern Library, n.d.), pt.1, bk.6, ch.3, 180; “Truth, crushed to the earth . . . ” from William Cullen Bryant, “The Battlefield,” stanza 9, originally published in The United States Democratic Review, 1, issue 1 (October 1837): 15-16; and “. . . behind the dim unknown . . .” from James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis,” stanza 8, originally published 1844.  Martin Luther King, Jr., “Rediscovering Lost Values,” The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr.,  ed. Clayborne Carson et al. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992),  2:253 n. 5.  King used this sequence in “Rediscovering Lost Values,” preached at the Second Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, 28 February 1954 where he used Galatians 6:7: “You shall reap what you sow” as his next point.  See Knock, 5-19.  He used it again in December 1956 at the First Annual Institute on Non-Violence and Social Change held in Montgomery, Alabama in “Facing the Challenge of a New Age,” on 16 November 1961 at the Annual Meeting of the (interracial) Fellowship of the Concerned of the Southern Regional Council in “Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience,”and in Bal Harbour, Florida, 11 December 1961 at the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in “If the Negro Wins, Labor Wins.”  See  A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James Melvin Washington (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1986), 43, 52, 135, 141, 201, 207.

[2] Albert J. Raboteau, A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African American Religious History, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), 71.

 

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