Ralph Waldo Emerson, toward the end of his life, found the names of familiar objects escaping him. He wanted to say something about a window, or a table, or a book on a table. But the word wasn't there, although other words could still suggest the shape of what he meant. Then someone, his wife perhaps, would understand: "Yes, window! I'm sorry, is there a draft?" He'd nod. She'd rise. Once a friend dropped by to visit, shook out his umbrella in the hall, remarked upon the rain. Later the word umbrella vanished and became the thing that strangers take away. Paper, pen, table, book: was it possible for a man to think without them? To know that he was thinking? We remember that we forget, he'd written once, before he started to forget. Three times he was told that Longfellow had died. Without the past, the present lay around him like the sea. Or like a ship, becalmed, upon the sea. He smiled to think he was the captain then, gazing off into whiteness, waiting for the wind to rise.
Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.