By Anne Matthews
December 1, 2007
When the atom bombs were dropped . . . when we learned to our astonishment that we would not be obliged in a few months to rush up the beaches near Tokyo assault-firing while being machine-gunned, mortared, and shelled, for all the practiced phlegm of our tough façades we broke down and cried with relief and joy. We were going to live. We were going to grow to adulthood after all.
—Paul Fussell, Thank God for the Atom Bomb, 1988
Shortly before mid-day I placed the single earphone to my ear and started listening. The receiver on the table before me was very crude—a few coils and condensers and a coherer—no valves, no amplifiers, not even a crystal. But I was at last on the point of proving the correctness of all my beliefs to test. The answer came at 12.30 when I heard, faintly but distinctly, pip-pip-pip. I handed the phone to Kemp: “Can you hear anything?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “the letter S”—he could hear it. I knew then that all my anticipations had been justified. . . . I now felt for the first time absolutely certain that the day would come when mankind would be able to send messages without wires between the farthermost ends of the earth.
—Guglielmo Marconi, 1901, in Leslie Bailey, Scrapbook 1900–1914
And so I thanked Paul Genin and paid him back and he said if you ever need me just tell me, and that was that. . . . Life is funny that way. It always is funny that way, the ones that naturally should offer do not, and those who have no reason to offer it, do, you never know you never do know where your good-fortune is to come from.
—Gertrude Stein, Wars I Have Seen, 1945
There are nothing but gifts on this poor, poor earth.
—Czeslaw Milosz, The Separate Notebooks, 1986
Mao Pao’s turtle returned
beneath the chilly waves;
Wang Hung’s messenger stood
before the late-year flowers.
—Minamoto no Shitago, Heian period, c. 935
(According to the official history of the Chin dynasty, Mao Pao bought a white turtle in the marketplace, raised it, and then, when it had grown to adulthood, released it into the river. Years later, after being defeated in battle, when Wang jumped, armor and all, into the river to escape the enemy troops, he landed on the back of the turtle, who had returned to help him and who carried him safely to the other shore. Wang Hung sent a white-robed messenger to bring wine to T’ao Ch’ien, so that the destitute poet would have something to drink among the chrysanthemums.)
—J. Thomas Rimer and Jonathan Chaves, eds., Japanese and Chinese Poems to Sing: The Wakan Roei Shu
We walked towards the nearest house . . . a cross between an English farmhouse and a West Indian hut. Herds of European cows were grazing in pastures surrounded by fences, on which striped squirrels were playing. A Negress of thirteen or fourteen, practically naked and singularly beautiful, opened the gate to us like a young Night. We bought some cakes of Indian corn, chickens, eggs, and milk, and returned to the ship with our demijohns and baskets. I gave my silk handkerchief to the little African girl; it was a slave who welcomed me to the soil of liberty.
—François-René de Chateaubriand, after landing at Chesapeake Bay, 1791
TIA Thanks in advance
TU Thank you
TYVM Thank you very much
VN Very nice
YTG You’re the greatest
YW You’re welcome
GAL Get a life
—Text-messaging abbreviations, early 21st century North America
On V.E. night, 8 May 1945, when, after dinner, we in the office heard that the Prime Minister and various members of his Government would appear on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building, overlooking Whitehall and Parliament Square, to speak to the crowds. I was able to find my way from the Annexe office, through a maze of corridors and steps, to this balcony, where I occupied the smallest scrap of space on the extreme end, and was thus able to witness the quite extraordinary scene of this huge crowd filling the space below, addressed by Mr. Churchill and roaring their delight, joy and thanks to him.
As I was leaving the scene there arrived dear old Mrs. Landemare, the Churchills’ cook throughout the war, who had been unable to leave her kitchen sooner and had thus battled her way through those corridors too late to see the fun. Mr. Churchill, full of the moment of triumph, was just going off with his Ministers; but on seeing her he broke away from them, came and shook her hand and thanked her for having looked after him so well through those years.
—Elizabeth Layton Nel, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, 1958
I feel a very unusual sensation—if it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.
The parson did not gabble and hurry in the horrible manner common on such occasions. With Barker & myself for congregation (and Mamma) he did it with his utmost feeling and sincerity. We could have made him perfect technically in two rehearsals; but he was excellent as it was, and I shook his hand with unaffected gratitude, in my best manner.
I went behind the scenes at the end of the service and saw the real thing. People are afraid to see it; but it is wonderful . . . the violet coffin . . . went in feet first. And behold! The feet burst miraculously into streaming ribbons of garnet-colored lovely flame, smokeless and eager, like pentecostal tongues, and as the whole coffin passed in it sprang into flame all over, and my mother became that beautiful fire.
—George Bernard Shaw, at his mother’s funeral and cremation, 1914, Collected Letters, 1911–1925, Vol. III, 1985
Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.
George was four years old. It was his second birthday in prison camp.
At midday, Lilah and I got out the box of Red Cross food . . . and divided each item into thirty-four sections. It required mathematical precision, but we did it. Every child then brought a bowl or plate to us, and watched with shining eyes. We filled each plate with little mounds of salmon, sardine, butter, Spam, ham, jelly, meat, prunes. This was not fun or pleasure. This was tense, terrible, earnest participation in Paradise.
George’s melting gratification in having something to give, his pride in being a benefactor, made him swell all day long before my eyes, until by night-time he was twice-normal. How I loved him then!
—Agnes Newton Keith, Three Came Home, 1947, about Borneo prison camp life
Gratitude—is not the mention
Of a Tenderness,
But its still appreciation
Out of Plumb of Speech.
When the Sea return no Answer
By the Line and Lead
Proves it there’s no Sea, or rather
A remoter Bed?
—Emily Dickinson (#989)
At the foot of Sevuokuk, Lapland longspurs build their nests in the walrus’s abandoned crania.
Glaucous gulls fly over. In the shore lead are phalaropes, with their twiglike legs. In the distance I can see flocks of oldsquaw against the sky, and a few cormorants.
I looked out over the Bering Sea and brought my hands folded to the breast of my parka and bowed from the waist deeply toward the north, that great strait filled with life, the ice and the water. I held the bow to the pale sulphur sky at the northern rim of the earth. I held the bow till my back ached, and my mind was emptied of its categories and designs.
I was full of appreciation for all that I had seen.
—Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams, 1986
Anne Matthews is a contributing editor of the SCHOLAR.
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