What a Difference a Century < Makes

Photo taken through my door window

“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

Daniel 12:4 (KJV)

Consider some differences close to a century makes.  I recently read the Introduction to a book entitled “The Best Loved Poems of the American People,” published by Doubleday in 1936.  I reproduce it here, almost in total, to illustrate some of those differences.


Particularly noteworthy, to me, is the stark contrast between how difficult it was, in the 1930’s, the decade of my birth, and in the absence of digital databases, computer networks and search engines, for people, in this case primarily poetry lovers and the publisher of the New York Times, Adolph Ochs himself, to identify published works of interest with little more to rely upon than a fragmentary memory, a half-remembered line or stanza.


Now, with a smartphone in hand, we can have, in an instant, what required a collective search, time lag, postage stamps, the incentive of financial reward and a Queries and Answers desk at the Times to then maybe produce. Even in this, my entry, I embed links to websites as support.

At the bottom, I also include the poem, in its entirety, that Adolph Ochs was so wanting to find.  It is brief and one wonders why, what reminiscences, perhaps, a busy publisher may have been chasing when he initiated his search, why it so haunted him, as he put it. Strangely enough, though, online, the poem is attributed to an anonymous author, in my hardcover book it is found on page 323, and beneath the poem is written:

“Unknown.  Originally signed ‘Beatrice’


The Best Loved Poems of the American People
"Introduction

This book began in the heart of a little newsboy in Knoxville, Tennessee.  He loved poetry.

To him poetry meant music -and ideas.  It sang to him and it spoke to him. It inspired him.

Particularly did it inspire him.

The boy grew up.  He continued selling newspapers -all his life.

He was Adolph S. Ochs [in remembrance of whom the book was published], publisher of the New York Times.

Throughout his life Mr. Ochs loved poetry.  He was keenly interested in the number of inquiries regarding it that came to the editorial rooms of The New York Times Book Review, and he started the Queries and Answers page to handle them.

The selection of verses that are here collected under the title Best Loved Poems of the American People is based on the most frequently requested items that have cleared through these columns over a period of three decades.

During a large part of this time, Hazel Felleman has been the editor of Queries and Answers.  From every state in the Union, and even beyond its borders, have come countless letters asking for this poem or that, or for the complete poem whose theme is such-and-such, or the song whose refrain is thus-and-so.

Miss Felleman has long had her finger on the poetry pulse of the nation.  Its heartbeats are truly registered in this, her book.

One day, Mr. Ochs appeared at Miss Felleman's desk and said:  "There's a line that has been running through my head lately, and I wish I could get the whole poem.  I read it when I was a boy, and I don't remember the author's name.  It begins: 'I am a stranger in the land where my forefathers trod. [poem below]' See if you can find it through your Queries and Answers page.' "

So a search was begun.

Weeks passed, and no one had answered the query.  But the publisher was not satisfied.  He said:  "Offer five dollars to anyone who will send a copy of the complete poem.  If that doesn't produce results, offer ten dollars.  And if necessary offer as high as twenty-five.  I simply must have that poem -it haunts me."

For various reasons, most of them obvious, Adolph Och's name did not appear in connection with these offers.  As in most undertakings, however, he was successful in his quest.  After several months a copy of the poem, found by a reader in an old magazine in the Yale University library, was sent to Miss Felleman, who turned it over to her chief.

Today poetry is an absolute necessity.  The world needs it for its vitalizing strength.  Poetry came into being because of this need, and it is perpetuated for the same reason.

[...] 

The critic tells you what you ought to read.  Miss Felleman, out of a knowledge of and sympathy with your likes and dislikes, has provided the poems you want to read.

How else have certain poems become classic except through the fact that they struck a responsive chord in the breast of the average man or woman?  Some of Bobbie [Robert] Burns's poems -notably the one in which he says,

Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us -

are not kept alive and in print by the supercritical.  Nor will it be such who will some day make classics of various poems by Edgar A. Guest, Margaret E. Sangster, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and many a lesser known poet.  It is the preference of the people, after all, that gives permanency to poetry.
  
In a sense, this book has been edited by the American people who love poetry. Miss Felleman is the liaison officer who has co-ordinated [sic] the poetry preferences of the nation.  She has assembled the results in orderly fashion and given them back in an enduring and friendly form.

[Signed:]Edward Frank Allen"

The poem which Adolph Ochs both sought and found:

Death

"I am a stranger in the land
Where my forefathers trod;
A stranger I unto each heart,
But not unto my God!

I pass along the crowded streets,
Unrecognized my name;
This thought will come amid regrets--
My God is still the same!

I seek with joy my childhood's home,
But strangers claim the sod;
Not knowing where my kindred roam,
Still present is my God!

They tell me that my friends all sleep
Beneath the valley clod;
Oh, is not faith submissive sweet!
I have no friend save God!"

4 thoughts on “What a Difference a Century < Makes

  1. I love this, B. Thanks for sharing. *Dan George* Quest Expeditions 7170 17 Mile Road NE Cedar Springs, MI 49319

    616-893-1507 (Dan’s cell)

    Liked by 1 person

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